Sarah Aroeste Band: Puertas
by Matthue Roth
In 1492, Sarah Aroeste’s family was one of thousands of Spanish Jewish families who were forced into exile when the Inquisition hit the fan. A little more than five hundred years later, Sarah Aroeste and her backing band attempt to dive right back into the culture that expelled them. Their second album, Puertas, takes up the mantle of preserving Ladino Jewish music and adapting it to a more contemporary world-music phraseology.
What does that mean? Well, essentially: Aroeste and her four-member backing band cover nine traditional Sephardic ballads, keeping lyrics intact, setting the music to a combination of samba, flamenco, and, uh…Matisyahu-style hard rock solos, of all things.
Songs like “Los Bilbilicos” and “Una Matica de Ruda” rock without actually rocking. Drums, hand drums, and oud provide an intricate backbone to the songs, and Aroeste’s voice is a mighty force of its own, crashing through the arrangements as she simmers, yodels, and belts out the lyrics of her forefathers with both passion and conviction.
It inexplicably explodes, at certain moments, into wah-inflicted jam band stylistics, lounge jazz reminiscent of Pizicatto Five and Herbie Hancock’s tamer stuff. The weakest part in Aroeste’s link is her backing band. Electric guitar solos frequently change songs into emulations of a bad ’70s bar mitzvah band, and the arrangements vary from inspired Latin rhythms to the “rumba” function of a Casio keyboard. The trite lyrics and even more trite keyboards on “Una Pastora Yo Ami (I Loved Once)” are truly cringeworthy. Even when the song breaks out into what sounds like a guitar-and-castanets beat, the so-ABBA-it-isn’t-funny electric guitar makes an even bigger travesty of them.
But Aroeste has talent, and the CD is a cinch for the growing desire for Jewish-but-exotic-sounding albums. With a few fine tunes, or a bit of fast-forwarding, Aroeste should be ready to be embraced by them in no time.