Musician and songwriter Nani Vazana who performs as “Nani” will bring Ladino songs of the Jewish Sephardic diaspora to the North Carolina Folk Festival this weekend.

Ladino is a language from the Middle Ages that was spoken by Jewish people of the Iberian Peninsula who were forced out during the Spanish Inquisition.

Nani learned of the culture through her grandmother from Morocco. While the language may be ancient, Nani usually focuses on contemporary themes and experiences in her songwriting.

But one of the songs from her latest album bridges the ages. It’s based on a 13th-century Ladino poem that Nani found in which a father laments that he has no sons. 

That’s when one of his daughters informs her parents she wants to be recognized as a boy. It ends with the mother accepting him as her son.

"It’s not shocking at all to find out that people have been busy with the same questions 800 years ago because history tends to repeat," she says. "When I saw the text for the first time I felt chills in my spine. I knew I had to compose the music for that poem.”

Nani says Ladino is an endangered language because most of the people who speak it are elderly.

She says by sharing her heritage she hopes to inspire other artists to explore their cultural roots.

Nani performs Friday at 6:30 p.m. on the Lawn Stage, Saturday at 6:30 p.m. at the Old Courthouse Stage, and Sunday at 11:30 a.m. on the Cone Health CityStage. 

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