May 17, 2012, JCC Auditorium, Rockville Md.
Reviewed by Judith Roumani
Although we had been warned by others more knowledgeable that this was not your nono’s Ladino music, we proceeded intrepidly to attend this concert of a creative Ladino Indie Rock group based in Brooklyn, but performing somewhat far from the cutting edge of Ladino music, in Rockville, Maryland. The concert formed part of the recent Washington Jewish Music Festival, which showcased other progressive Jewish music as well.
The audience, of all ages, seemed to enjoy this music as much as we did.
Its leader is Daniel Saks, a graduate of the local Rockville Jewish day school who has now devoted himself to music. Though the group is based in the United States, he announced that he has recently moved to Mexico City where as an itinerant Ladino singer he attracts much interest, and the rhythms of Mexican music are something he would like to incorporate in his music. The band members assemble in the United States for practices, concerts and recordings. The name ‘De Leon’ was the family name of the the bandleader’s great-grandfather, Giorgio De Leon, who lived in Italy. The band is also named for Moses De Leon, the 12th century Kabbalistic writer from Spain. One wonders also if it is a reference to the Lion mascot of the Smith Jewish Day School, which Saks and the base player Kevin Snider attended. Their latest recording is the 2011 Casata, while their third LP has recently been successfully funded via Kickstarter (June 2012).
The musical numbers were enthusiastic and extended, and held us enthralled for a couple of hours, with unusual instruments such as trumpet, melodica, and glockenspiel. In particular, the wedding song and the Havdala song were very lively and delivered with much enthusiasm and energetic instrumentals. The languages are Ladino, Spanish and Hebrew, the melodies fifteenth to twenty-first century. The appreciative audience plied the band with questions after the show.
This kind of innovative Ladino music may not please purists, but it is certainly a way to involve the younger generation in Ladino culture. As the musicologist Judith Cohen has written, Sephardic music has always adapted to new musical trends, and I would add, why not in this direction as well?
“DeLeon” is highly recommended, whether you can purchase their CDs, or attend their concerts, anywhere around the world.