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Ljuba Davis Ladino Ensemble / Press

“The Iberian flavor of Ljuba Davis's Ladino Ensemble owes much to spicy North African percussion and the melodic sweetness of the fado, and it reaches all the way back before Columbus to the golden age of Moorish rule for inspiration. String instruments—in this case the cello, the bouzouki, the oud, and the acoustic guitar—play together as in Arab orchestrals, with each instrument adding distinctive ornamentation to the main melody. Live, this tight five-piece combo of master instrumentalists sounds like a much bigger unit.”

“The most interesting things about Davis’s work all come from her almost half-century twisting American and Sephardic folk traditions together, a synthesis she alone vocalizes in spare moments. Her decision to expose this music to the broadest possible audience is commendable, but by so easily cutting herself out, she sells her own material short. 'East and West' is not just the exercise in recording classic Ladino tunes - it’s something more special, and it’s something that requires Davis herself. ”

“Davis deserves a lot of credit for bringing Ladino into the twenty-first century. Ladino culture is significantly less known and less recognized than the Yiddish culture of Eastern European Jews. That being said, this album deserves to be heard by those who enjoy heavy Middle Eastern percussion. Davis admits the album is not exactly traditional, but she states '…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.' Her passion for this music shows.”

“The dedication to and respect for the music itself echoes in the album’s unique structure: one set of tracks with Davis’s vocals, and one with only the instrumental and backing (male) tracks, allowing listeners to sing along and learn the melodies—and to honor the Orthodox prohibition on men listening to female vocals. Davis wants these songs sung, no matter how and by whom.”

“Harking back to my years in the Bay Area, I have a definite memory of listening to Ljuba Davis, at the very least featured during a fund-raiser around the time of the Bosnian War. With a lovely, real-sounding voice and a delightful selection of traditional repertoire, she was one of the few Sephardic singers that stuck in my mind. Here it is many years later, and there is finally a recording. Not only that, but the ensemble behind her voice captures a Balkan/Spanish Sephardic sound that is perfect. This CD is one of a small (but growing!) number of traditional Sephardic music CDs worth listening to. It is also designed to learn from--in addition to a CD featuring Davis' voice, there is a second CD featuring a male voice (or just instrumental) designed to provide access to the melodies by those who want to learn to sing the songs (or who are limited by the current haredi "kol isha" fetish).”

“The Ljuba Davis Ladino Ensemble brings us an exciting 2-CD set of Sephardic music with lively instrumentals and joyous vocals. The Ladino qualities are inherent throughout, but there is a good deal of Mediterranean, Greek, and Arab musical influences contained throughout both CDs. Both CDs contain identical songs in identical order, but the first CD contains vocals by Ljuba Davis, while the second CD contains one vocal track by Avram Pengas. The group consists of Ljuba Davis on vocals, Avram Pengas on vocals and bouzouki, Rachid Halihal on oud, Nadav Lev on Spanish guitar, Ossama Farouk on hand percussion, and Marty Confurius on string bass. The rousing group is very fun to listen to and steeped in Ladino glory. This is music for the Klezmer, Jewish, Ladino, and Mediterranean music fan!”

“Is there a word for the gravitational pull one can feel for cultural tradition not one's own? There should be. I'd use it often, particularly in reference to the various musical offspring of the Jewish and Roma diasporas. Something there is about this music. And today, specifically, the Ladino music of Ljuba Davis, whose new album East and West I'm enjoying as I write.”

“Singer Ljuba Davis turns her Ladino roots into pure poetry, as she transitions the musical traditions of her ancestors into fresh sounds. Part of the early West Coast Jewish music revival, Ljuba is a musical elder who savors the joys of song, celebration and wisdom. The two-disc CD features a vocal version and a matching instrumental version, each separately. The vocal track collection shines with the spirited, “Et Dodim,” trailed by the emotions of “Scalerica,” the rhythmic “Morenica,” along with the gentle lullaby “Durme.” The timeless music continues with the uplifting “Cuando,” the moving “Adio Kerida,” quickening the pace again, this time with the expressive “Adir Hu,” ending with a lush version of the Yom Kippur prayer “Rachamana.” The need to understand the lyrics of Ljuba as she sings is negated, as it is the sound of the music that will move you!”

“The Middle East nightclub version comes from the Ljuba Davis Ladino Ensemble's "East and West." Davis, who also grew up in a Sephardic family, is a veteran of the Bay Area folk and Jewish music scenes. She put the production of "East and West," her first Ladino recording, into the very capable hands of Avram Pengas. Houstonians will remember Pengas from his nightclub-style concert at the ERJCC last year. Pengas did what he does best. He assembled a band of New York's leading Israeli, Arabic and American Jewish club musicians and dressed the eight songs on the CD in Greek, Turkish and Balkan arrangements. The album contains two CDs: one with Davis' vocals and one with instrumental versions of the tunes. These would be the sorts of pre-World War II and pre-Israel musical settings that an older generation of Ladino music fans might associate with the music.”

“The Ljuba Davis Ladino Ensemble dedicates itself to resurrecting the haunting, cross-pollinated Ladino repertoire that originated in Spain in the days before the Inquisition, when Andalucia was a major center for both Jewish and Arabic culture. Unsurprisingly, what eclectic chanteuse Davis sings – in Ladino, the centuries-old Spanish Jewish dialect – sounds a lot like a whole bunch of other styles, yet it’s different. The songs on their amazing new album have flamenco-tinged acoustic guitars, but the lead lines are carried just as often as by Avram Pengas’ spiky, incisive bouzouki or Rachid Halihal’s oud. The melodies refer to gypsy music, the Middle East or the Balkans just as often as they evoke their Spanish home turf. Davis sings in a nuanced voice that can be quiet and plaintive but also joyous, sailing up to the end of a phrase on the album’s second track with the kind of microtonal “whoop” that’s common in Bulgarian music.”