Ljuba Davis’s Ladino roots inspired her to form her own group with New York’s top Greek, Arab and Jewish musicians (led by bouzouki master Avram Pengas). The Ljuba Davis Ladino Ensemble recently released East and West, a double CD set of vocal & instrumental tracks. Davis was a significant voice during the early West Coast Jewish music revival. Berkeley and the San Francisco Bay Area were Jewish hotspots in the 60s. The sought after vocalist sings from the heart and interprets Ladino music her own way.
“When I sing some of these songs, I don’t do it in the way that some people envision Ladino music. Perhaps it’s part of some genetic memory, way, way back in the prism of my mind. But for the music to be real, I need to sing it the way I feel it now, with more of a contemporary rhythm and with great joy. I simply love this music.” – Ljuba Davis
When Davis visited Barcelona, she shared a deep connection with her Sephardic ancestry. “Never forget that your family are Sephardim. That you came from Spain.” These are the words of her paternal grandmother which stuck with Davis. She has always had a fascination with Sephardic melodies and over the years, Davis developed a repertoire of traditional Ladino songs while she went to nursing school and raised seven children.
Her son, David Davis (who produced the album and plays the cello on “Durme”), encouraged her to get into the studio to record and the result is East and West, an album which beams with Ljuba Davis’ soulful renditions of classic Ladino songs. David recruited Avram Pengas, a self-taught virtuoso, to act as musical director, leading the band through a range of styles and sounds. Spanish guitar, upright bass and Mediterranean percussion inspire Fado-tinged ballads while oud & bouzouki accompany Davis’ moving voice. With a disc of vocals and a disc of instrumentals, listeners get the chance to sing along and learn the melodies of these traditional songs. Sample tracks from East and West above or at Ljuba Davis Ladino Ensemble’s soundcloud page. While Ladino music may not be as well known as it should be, folks like Ljuba Davis are making sure this unique music gains a global audience.