Aron Saltiel - Kantigas de boda Project

Boda, Sephardic Wedding Songs

Turkish-Austrian native Ladino speaker and singer Aron Saltiel and Ensemble Saltiel presents a program of recently collected and recorded rare Sephardic wedding music.

This is a unique opportunity to experience the repertoire of a traditional Turkish Sephardic wedding – songs and music from the engagement, the preparation of the dowry and the trading of gifts, to the drawing up of the marriage contract, the ceremony and the subsequent week. The songs themselves were historically sung within the Istanbul-based Saltiel family. As a veteran researcher of this repertoire who grew up in the community, Aron is both an authority on the music and a great performer.

Accompanied by hugely famous Turkish and Roma virtuosos at the forefront of modern Turkish pop and folk music, Ensemble Saltiel recalls the historic collaboration of a capella singing combined with instruments such as oud, kanun (harp), zurna (Turkish oboe) kemenche (bowed lyre), clarinet, violin, darabuka (drum) and tambourine. The music is lush, nuanced and intricately interwoven with mesmerizing taksim (explorative instrumental improvisations).

Presentations of Sephardic music and culture have historically been underrepresented within the American Jewish community, as the majority of this population is Ashkenazi, tracing its roots to Eastern Europe rather than Sephardi (from Spain, via North Africa, the Balkans or the Middle East) or Mizrahi, such as Iraq or Iran. It is not often that a program of this quality is available, one that combines in one person extraordinary teaching and performing skills with the resource of a native Ladino speaker who has a rare repertoire, based on extensive fieldwork. This will be the American premiere.

Aron Saltiel’s project involves traditional Sephardic repertoire of wedding songs ("Kantigas de boda") originating in the Spanish (Ladino) speaking Jewish communities of Northern Greece, Bulgaria, Republic of Macedonia and Turkey. These songs accompany different phases of the wedding feast, including the exhibition of the dowry, the bride’s passage to and return from the mikvah, the blessing of the couple by their elders, the dancing and rejoicing, and the bride’s entrance to the bridegroom’s house. Accompanying the Ladino texts is music influenced by the liturgical modes of hazanut as well as by Macedonian and Turkish wedding tunes, often played at weddings by Roma musicians. This repertoire of wedding songs is no longer part of the cultural life of the community. Saltiel collected most of the songs during his fieldwork for the Sephardic Songbook (in cooperation with Joshua Horowitz, published C. F. Peters, Frankfurt) in the Sephardic communities in Sarajevo, Salonica, Istanbul and Batyam in the years 1975 to 1988, where he encountered several informants who remembered the music of "the old days." It is the goal of this project to document and present this cultural treasure of the Jewish Ottoman heritage before it is completely forgotten.


Aron Saltiel’s music embodies the depth of his experiences. His concerts are inspired, always with an ear toward bringing people of diverse backgrounds together. His concerts intersperse humorous anecdotes with subtly molded music, and include Turkish, Greek, and Bulgarian Sephardic music.

Based in Graz, Austria, Aron Saltiel was born in the Ladino-speaking community of Istanbul of descendants of Sephardic Jews exiled from Spain in 1492. His first contact with Sephardic and Turkish music was in his home, where he absorbed the singing of his grandparents. Later he learned that many of the songs she sang to him were shared by Turks, Jews and Greeks, which led him to explore the galvanizing potential of music in these languages and cultures. Aron is still acknowledged as one of the world's experts on Sephardic music, and has served as advisor and radio producer for both Jewish and Islamic music for Austrian national Radio (ORF) and West German Radio (WDR). His musical interests led him to study voice with Hedda Szamosi in Vienna, following which he founded the group, Alondra with Marie-Thérèse Escribano and Wolfram Märzendorfer. Although the term and precepts of "World Music" would not take hold until the late 1980s, throughout the early 1980s Alondra offered concerts dedicated to the performance of Jewish music. Their concerts were seen as path-forging, and brought them invitations to renowned festivals such as the Steierische Herbst Festival, Graz, the Wiener Festwochen, the Semana de Musica Antigua, Burgos, the Festival des Arts Traditionnels,Rennes.

Saltiel returned to his family home in Turkey in summer, 2009 with his daughter Rivka, also a singer, to arrange the music for this project and rehearse with a group of musicians familiar with the style and musical dialect of the tunes. Working with a group of exceptional musicians from the Istanbul music scene, "Boda, Sephardic Wedding Songs" was recorded and released in August 2010.

Boda, Sephardic Wedding Songs

Musicians: Aron & Rivka Saltiel (vocals) and a 5-member band from Istanbul (kanun, clarinet, oud, violin & percussion)