Sephardic balladeers Flory Jagoda and Susan Gaeta performed for a full house at Congregation Beth Israel in Charlottesville on Saturday evening, January 22.
Flory Jagoda, a 2002-2003 Master Artist in the Virginia Folklife Apprenticeship Program, was a 2002 recipient of the National Heritage Award, the highest honor given to a traditional artist in the United States. Susan Gaeta was her apprentice and is a gifted singer and performer. The concert was a fundraiser for the Flory Jagoda Sephardic Music Fund at the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, established by Susan Gaeta in Jagoda’s honor to help preserve, support, and perpetuate the Sephardic musical tradition.
Ms. Jagoda, a humorous and moving storyteller, narrated a slide show of pre-World War II images of Sarajevo and its Bosnian Jewish community, including the members of her own musical family, most of whom perished during the Holocaust.
Jagoda and Gaeta enthralled the audience with their beautiful voices and guitar playing, and Jagoda performed a Bosnian folk song on the original Hohner accordion she played while escaping Bosnia by train as a teenager in the late 1930′s. The evening ended with with a rousing rendition of “Ocho Kandelikas” (“Eight Candles”), Jagoda’s best-known composition, which has become a world-wide Hanukkah favorite.
Flory Jagoda was born in Sarajevo into the Altaras family of musicians. From her “Nona” (grandmother), Jagoda learned songs that had been passed down in her family in the generations since Sephardic Jews were forced into exile from Spain and Portugal in the late 15th century, sung in Ladino, or “Judezmo”, the traditional language of the Jews of the Ottoman Empire.
Escaping with her parents from the destruction of Bosnia’s Jewish community during World War II, Ms. Jagoda is now recognized as the “keeper of the flame” of the Sephardic musical tradition in the United States and internationally, as well as for her new compositions and arrangements of traditional Sephardic songs. Jagoda has passed this legacy along to her children, musicians themselves, and has worked with many students now performing Sephardic music.