Nani, Nani (La Mujer Engañada) NEW AND IMPROVED!

Entrant: Sayyida Laila al-Sanna' al-Andalusiyya

Crown Arts & Sciences Championship; Barony of Settmour Swamp; 30 March 2019


Detail of an angel-musician playing a Vihuela from an anonymous 16th century Iberian fresco 

 **The printed documentation used footnotes, which are not supported in this blog. I have replaced them with endnotes, marked in the text as (1), (2), etc. The endnotes appear after all of the appendices, in order to accommodate the footnotes therein.

Introduction and Goals

I have studied Ladino music for 20 years now, and it would not be an exaggeration to say that I am only just now starting to feel as though I have mastered the fundamentals of Ladino style. Twenty years ago I sounded like a Western classical singer when I performed this repertoire. Now, after 20 years spent studying both Ladino and classical Arabic music, it is starting to live in my bones. I am finally beginning to perform this material authentically.

The piece I am performing today would not have been possible for me even five years ago. It requires dramatic depth, considerable range (roughly 2.5 octaves depending on my improvisational choices), and extensive ornamentation in the Arabic style. Furthermore, it is almost 50% improvisational, so in order to perform it well, the musical scales (maqamat) (1) on which it is built must be fully integrated into my musical "toolbox" and I must be in a particular kind of musical "flow" that is necessary for all improvisational performance. (2) It is, quite literally, never the same piece twice.

This is easily one of the most challenging Ladino songs I have ever performed, and there is an element of unpredictability that makes it both thrilling and rather scary. It calls on all the technique I have developed over the past 20 years. Above all, this is a piece that lives squarely in the Arabic Ladino tradition (as opposed to the European Ladino tradition, which was closer to Western European music) (3), so it is a greater challenge for a singer from a Western musical background. It allows me to stretch myself and grow as an artist. So, too, it challenges the audience with unfamiliar scales and vocal embellishments, such as slides (4) and quarter-tone quavers. (5)

My goal is to perform this piece authentically, as it would have been performed by a 13th century Sephardic Jew, (according to current scholarship), and in so doing, to transport my audience to the world of 13th century Cordoba.

The Language

Ladino is a Hebrew-Spanish hybrid that developed in Medieval Spain. It resembles medieval Castilian in grammar and pronunciation, while incorporating Hebrew vocabulary, and using the Hebrew writing system. After the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492, Ladino gradually died out as a language in Europe, though it continued to be used in Jewish communities throughout the Latin American world. 

The Song's Provenance

"Nani, Nani" is a Ladino song that was probably composed sometime between the 13th and 15th centuries in Spain. Its provenance can be confirmed with a fair degree of certainty using an anthropological dating method which I explain briefly in Appendix B. (This method was experimental when I first developed it around 2002, (6) but it has since gained a great deal of traction in the world of Ladino scholarship.) (7)

The performance of "Nani, Nani" in Spain prior to 1600 is further confirmed by the presence of the melody and one stanza of lyrics in De Musica, a 1577 music text by Spanish theorist and historian, Francisco de Salinas. (8) This text is not an ideal source from which to extract Sephardic practice, as it was written 85 years after the expulsion of the Jews, and Salinas did not appear to be aware of the song's cultural origin. (9)

Reliability of Oral Transmission of "Nani, Nani" 

Although the improvised embellishments frequently obscure and overtake the melody, the core melodic structure of the song has not changed in almost 450 years. (10) In fact, since most Sephardic communities were unaware of the Salinas text until recently, "Nani, Nani" is an excellent case study showing the reliability of the oral transmission of Ladino music. (See Appendix C for a more complete analysis.) 

Textual Versions of "Nani, Nani" 

There are multiple versions of the lyrics of "Nani, Nani" (known in post-expulsion Spain as "La Mujer Engañada"). Most version communicate a clear narrative of a new mother betrayed by marital infidelity and deception. (11) This fits into a larger category quite common in Ladino music: the anguished/angry breakup song. (12) The most common period variations change the profession of the cheating husband. In one version, the husband is a soldier who says he is coming back from war. In another version he is baker coming home from his shop. The version I chose, one of the most common versions, and the one referenced by De Salinas, centers around a cheating husband who claims to have been working in the fields all day, but who has, in fact, been with his new lover. (13) (There are some versions of the song that stop prior to the revelation of infidelity, thus preserving the song's innocence as a sweet lullaby. These are generally believed to have been a 19th century development.) (14)

I have chosen three verse-stanzas that appear in multiple versions, which communicate a complete narrative with a beginning, middle, and end, and which almost certainly originate prior to the 1492 Edict of Expulsion. (See the summary of my anthropological analysis in Appendix C for a detailed explanation of textual provenance.) I did not use the verse that appears in De Musica, because it belongs farther into the narrative, and doesn't make sense without the stanzas which precede it. Furthermore, I find his text suspect, as it lacks the Hebrew elements which are present in most Ladino music. When compared with other versions of the song, it seems likely that it had undergone a degree of Westernization in the years after the expulsion.

Ladino Performance Practice

Medieval Jewish and Arabic music are intimately connected. Ladino music developed in the Arabic world, during the height of Muslim rule in Al-Andalus, in Cordoba, which was the center of the Arabic music world. The music schools in Cordoba trained not only Arab musicians, but Jewish and European musicians as well. (15) Jewish music makes use of Arabic music modes and often mimics Arabic song forms.

This interconnectivity is extremely useful to the performer of Ladino music, because although there exist no treatises on the performance of medieval Ladino music, there are extensive Arabic music treatises contemporary with the height of Ladino music. Therefore, the best way to achieve authentic period performance practice is to study the Arabic treatises. These tend to encourage extensive and personal ornamentation, often improvisational in nature, according to the maqam in use. (16)

It is important to note that the only English scholar who has done deep work in the field of period Arabic music is H.G. Farmer, and his work is unreliable because he was an early 20th century Orientalist without any grounding in actual Arabic music. I have begun the work of attempting to decipher his garbled understandings of the texts. My interpretation of period Arabic ornamentation is based on these attempts, and is informed by my study of classical Arabic music as it exists today. In order to make more serious headway into specific period Arabic performance practices, I must first gain significant proficiency in classical Arabic language so that I can do my own translations.

The Maqam or Musical Mode

"Nani, Nani" is written in the maqam (17) of Hijaz, the second most common maqam for medieval Sephardic music, and one of the most popular Arabic maqamat in the 13th century. (18)


Though Salinas' version (see Appendix A) is presented in Western notation, which normalizes certain microtones (intervals that are smaller than those recognized in Western music), it is apparent through anthropological analysis that this was merely a Westernization of a fundamentally non-Western song.

In reality, "Nani, Nani" should be sung with the liberal use of microtones. (19) In this piece, these consist of a raised comma (approximately 1/9th of a step) on the 2nd scale degree, and a lowered comma on the 3rd scale degree, slightly reducing the size of the augmented 2nd. It is also permissible to lower either the 2nd or the 3rd scale degree by a full quarter tone during certain ornamentations, especially wailing slides or trills. This is, of course, a highly technical analysis, and for those without an academic musical background, it is enough to say that the scale is modified and does not conform to the Western system of notes or notation.

Performance Notes on "Nani, Nani" 

"Nani, Nani" is a highly unstructured song, which is traditionally performed in a very loose style with no underlying rhythm. This stylistic approach, supported by the anthropological analysis in Appendix C, is further backed up by the 1577 text. Salinas, who is well-known for his rhythmic theory, discusses "La Mujer Engañada" as an example of a situation in which un-metered singing is permitted. He compares this style of singing to Ecclesiastical singing done during a particular part of the Ecclesiastical calendar, and to the "Italian stye." (20)

This song, and its style, is very closely related to 13th century Andalusian music, and but for the language, is almost indistinguishable from a Classical Arabic muwwal (a solo vocal improvisation on a colloquial poem). The phrasing is determined by the singer or instrumentalist performing the melody. This type of song is the most heavily ornamented style of Arabic or Ladino music, and it is frequently performed without accompaniment. When performed with accompaniment, the singer and accompanist relate to one another through a call and response, preventing any need for coordination in phrasing. (21)

My ornamentations and embellishments are performed improvisationally, based on period practice as laid out by medieval music theorists al-Farabi, al-Kindi, and Safi al-Din. They may include close and far Arabic trills (22), slides (23), scales, and specific groupings of 16th or 32nd notes. (24) This song, in particular, is traditionally sung with a liberal use of slides, which sound quite foreign to the Western ear. As previously mentioned, the maqam includes a fairly wide range of microtones.


 Abddon, Seifed-Din Shehadeh. "Arabic Music: Samaie Farhafza Analysis." Unpublished paper, 2003.

Alvar, Manuel. Poesía tradicional de los judíos españoles. Argentina: Porrua, 1966.

Armistead, Samuel G., Joseph H. Silverman, and Iacob M. Hassán. Seis romancerillos de cordel sefardíes. Madrid: Castalia, 1981.

Armistead, Samuel G., Joseph H. Silverman, and Israel J. Katz. En torno al romancero sefardí.Madrid: Seminario Menéndez Pidal, 1982.

Armistead, Samuel G., Joseph H. Silverman, and Biljana Sljivic-Simsic. Judeo-Spanish Ballads from Bosnia. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1971.

Benardete, Maír José, Samuel Armistead, and Joseph H. Silverman. Judeo-Spanish Ballads from New York. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981.

Bénichou, Paul. Romancero judeo-español de Marruecos. Madrid: Castalia, 1968.

Cohen, Judith R. Judeo-Spanish Songs in the Sephardic Communities of Montreal and Toronto: Survival, Function, and Change. Dissertation. University of Montreal, Canada, 1989.

Dorn, Pamela J. Change and Ideology: The Ethnomusicology of Turkish Jewry. Dissertation. Indiana University, 1991.

Ehrenkreutz, Stefan. "Medieval Arabic Music Theory and Contemporary Scholarship." Arab Studies Quarterly, vol 2., no. 3, 1980, 249-265.

Farmer, Henry George. Historical Facts for the Arabian Musical Influence. ULAN Press, reprinted from The New Temple Press, originally published in 1921.

--. The Minstrelsy of the Arabian Nights. Franklin Classics, reprinted from the Hinrichsen Edition, originally published in a limited edition around 1920.

Haines, John. "The Arabic Style of Performing Medieval Music." Early Music, vol. 29, no. 3, 2001, 369-378.

Isgandarova, Nazila. "Music in Islamic Spiritual Care: A Review of Classical Sources." Unpublished paper.

Katz, Israel J. "Introduction." The Nico Castel Ladino Songbook. Tara Publications, 1981.

--. Judeo-Spanish Traditional Ballads from Jerusalem: An Ethnomusicological Study. New York: The Institute of Mediaeval Music, 1972.

---. “Stylized Performances of a Judeo-Spanish Traditional Ballad.” Eds. Dov Noy and Frank Talmage. Studies in Jewish Folklore: Proceedings of a Regional Conference of the Association for Jewish Studies Held at the Spertus College of Judaica, Chicago May 1-3, 1977. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Association for Jewish Studies, 1980. 181-200.

---. “The Musical Legacy of the Judeo-Spanish Romancero.” Eds. Josep María Solá-Solé and Joseph A. Silverman. Hispánica Judaica II: Literatura. Barcelona: Puvill Libros, 1982. 47-58.

Larrea Palacín, Arcadio de. Romances de Tetuán. Vol. I. Madrid: Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, Instituto de Estudios Africanos, 1952.

Lévy, Isaac. Chants Judéo-Espagnols. London: World Sephardi Federation, 1959.

Librowicz, Oro Anahory. Florilegio de romances sefardíes de la diáspora (Una colección malagueña).Madrid: Cátedra-Seminario Menéndez Pidal, 1980.

Meizel, Katherine. "La Mujer Engañada: A romance in the Judeo-Spanish tradition." eHumanista, vol. 3, 2003, 41-48.

Milligan, Samuel. Nine Sephardic Songs arranged for Voice and Harp. Ars Musicae Hispaniae, a division of Wings Press, 2015.

Moreno-Fernández, Francisco. "Spanish Language and Migration." The Routledge Handbook of Hispanic Applied Linguistics. Routledge, 2015, pp. 624-638.

Neumann, Richard J., arranger. The Nico Castel Ladino Songbook. Tara Publications, 1981.

Pedrosa, José Manuel. "El amante, la puerta y la lluvia: la balada hispánica de La mujer engañada, el pahkaru indio del Sumba y el tópico poético del paraklausithyron." Acta Poética, vol. 3 no. 1, June 2011.

Royal, Matthew S. "Tradition and Innovation in Sixteenth-Century Rhythmic Theory: Francisco de Salinas's De Musica Libri Septum." Music Theory Spectrum, Vol. 34, No. 2, Fall 2012, 26-47.

Salinas, Francisco. De musica (1577). Kassel: Bärenreiter-Verlag, 1958.

Saoud, Rabah. "The Arab Contribution to Music of the Western World." The Foundation for Science, Technology, and Civilization, 2004.

Schwarzwald, Ora. "Language Features of Ladino Translations across Time and Place." Phrasis: Studies in Language and Literature, vol. obscured in copy, 2006.

Wright, Owen. "Ibn al-Munajjim and the Early Arabian Modes." The Galpin Society Journal, vol. 19, April 1966, pp. 27-48.

Appendix A

"La Mujer Engañada"

in De Musica, by Francisco de Salinas, 1577


Appendix B

Anthropologically Dating Ladino Music

Ladino music was passed down through oral tradition, and there are few complete examples of written Ladino music until the 19th century. (25) Nonetheless, we can prove with near-certainty that some Ladino songs were written before the Edict of Expulsion in 1492. The process of proving historical provenance is three-fold:

  1. Evaluating the geographic spread of the song in question. We look for songs that can be found in multiple European locations. (Locations in the Americas are less useful, because of the continuing Ladino tradition in the New World.) Multiple versions of the same song are also indicative of early provenance, due to the inevitable alterations which occur over time. That said, multiple versions do reduce our certainty of the exact form the song might have taken in period.
  2. Linguistic analysis. The Ladino language underwent changes after the Expulsion, including the addition of a considerable amount of Greek and Turkish vocabulary,  grammatical changes, and in Latin America, an alteration to a more Latin American version of Spanish. Careful linguistic analysis can frequently reveal the provenance of a song. The closer to medieval Castillian, the older the song. (26) This holds even when there are versions that include modern Ladino. The existence of the older linguistic form is strong evidence of medieval provenance.
  3. Modal analysis.   (27) There are certain musical modes, closely related to the Arabic maqamat, that were in regular use by the Jews of medieval Spain. In Arabic terms, the most common Jewish maqamat were Nahawand (similar to a natural or harmonic minor), Hijaz (a mode strongly associated with Arabic and Jewish music, structured like a harmonic minor that starts from the 5th of the scale), and Kurd (similar to Hijaz, but containing a quarter-tone). Other modes were only added to the Ladino repertoire in Latin America, most significantly Ajam (basically the major mode). Other Turkish and Greek modes are equally foreign to medieval Ladino. Basic analysis of the musical mode can help confirm provenance when used in conjunction with the first two criteria. This is a highly technical process which requires extensive and deep understanding of classical Arabic and historically Jewish music.


In the introduction to Nine Sephardic Songs, Israel J. Katz says:

  • "...a study of variants can help in estimating age, as can the use of archaic language forms. Also, outside influences will indicate a later origin -- earlier texts are less likely to include Greek, Turkish, or Arabic words. Provenance is also important. If a song is found in several widely dispersed communities, such as say, Thessaloniki, Alexandria, and Tunisia, it's probable that it could, at least in part, predate the 1492 diaspora."

Katz's methods are good, but because he lacks a working knowledge of the maqamat system, his attempts at dating Ladino music are not as precise as mine. Modal analysis is key to successfully ascertaining whether a song was written prior to the expulsion, and if not, from where it might have originated.

Appendix C

Historical Analysis of "Nani, Nani", using the

Anthropological Dating Method Described in Appendix B

  1. Geographic Distribution: "Nani, Nani", or "La Mujer Engañada", is one of the most widely dispersed songs in the Ladino repertoire, appearing in at least fifteen locations: Argentina, the Azores, Bosnia, Cassaba, Chile, Istanbul, Izmir, Jerusalem, Morocco, Puerto Rico, Rhodes, Salonika, Spain, Tangier, and Tetuan. (28) Though the ornamentation, rhythmic structure, and performance practices vary widely, the core melody appears almost unchanged by time.
  2. Linguistic Analysis: The lyrics of "Nani, Nani" are somewhat variable according to time and place. It appears that verses were added and replaced by different diaspora communities, but a few verses were consistently present. (29)The oldest verses retain the markers of medieval Castilian that one would expect in a pre-Expulsion Ladino song, and appear in most of the diaspora versions. (30) See Katherine Meizel's article in eHumanista, for a detailed analysis of the lyrical variations of the song, and an accounting of it's geographic dispersion.
  3. Modal Analysis:  "Nani, Nani" is composed in the maqam of Hijaz, which was in wide use throughout the Muslim world from the 10th century to the present day. It was the second most common maqam for medieval Sephardic music, and one of the most popular Arabic maqamat in the 13th century. This mode is consistent with medieval practice.

    There are a few 20th-century versions of "Nani, Nani" which attempt to place it into a formal Western rhythmic context, but this appears inconsistent with typical practice, and is probably a result of the incessant 20th century attempts to notate Ladino music, and western music's stubborn insistence that music should not exist without a time signature. The vast majority of versions, including Salinas' 1577 text, present a highly unstructured song, performed in a very loose style with no underlying rhythm. This rhythmic style is also consistent with medieval practice. 

Appendix D

Audio and Video Recordings of "Nani, Nani"

Consulted During Analysis and Preparation

Audio Recordings

  • Richard Botton. Ladino Reverie
  • Jacqueline Reisel, Grietje Meter, Emma Reisel & Frans Vermeerssen. Mir Lebn Eybik - Poems of the Vanished World: Songs in Yiddish and Ladino, Vol. 2
  • The Gerard Edery Ensemble. Linda Amiga: Love Songs of the Sephardim and Renaissance Spain
  • Julia Milanova-Steiner & Nina Aladjem. Canciones Sepharadicas
  • Brio. Romance (Sephardic Jewish Culture of Early Spain)
  • Ensemble Galileo. Una Pieza de Fuego
  • Meirav Ben David-Harel, Yair Harel, Nima Ben David & Michele Claude. Yedid Nefesh: Amant de Mon Ame
  • Anna Ricci. Cancons Sefardites
  • Arjan & Stefan Byron. Judeo Spanish Songs
  • Elena Gragea & Anton Cardó: Joaquín Nin-Culmell. Obra para Canto y Piano

Video Recordings (YouTube)



Appendix E

Lyrics and Translation (32) 



  1. Like a scale, but more complex. Arabic maqamat infer patterns of notes, as well as scales. They are more complex than the Western idea of scales allows for. For a detailed explanation of Arabic maqamat in the present day, see
  2. This term is used widely by jazz musicians as well as Arabic musicians, to describe a semi-meditative state in which one is able to create spontaneously. 
  3. Katherine Meizel, "La Mujer Engañada: A romance in the Judeo-Spanish tradition". eHumanista, vol. 3, pp. 45.  
  4. A siren-like slide from one note to another. Similar to the operatic portamento, but with no musical separation at all between the notes. 
  5. A type of slow Arabic "trill" that goes back and forth between notes that are a quarter-tone apart. A quarter-tone is half the smallest interval in western music. It is unfamiliar to most Western listeners. 
  6. Grill-Childers, Alexandra (submitted under SCA name Elizaveta Arievna Lebedeva). "Documentation for 'Noches, Noches'" Caid Arts & Sciences Pentathlon 2002. The same material was used in an unpublished paper for the University of Nevada Las Vegas Theatre Department in 2014. 
  7. Katz, Israel J. "Introduction." The Nico Castel Ladino Songbook. Tara Publications, 1981, p. 7. 
  8. Francisco de Salinas, De Musica, p. 306. 
  9. Translation from the Latin reveals that Salinas believed it was a Spanish folk song. I translated the text in question myself, with some assistance from my friend, Robert Littman, a tenured Latin scholar and professor at the University of Hawaii. 
  10. This is based on an analysis of audio recordings taken between 1904 and the present day, compared to each other and to the musical fragment from the Salinas text. 
  11. Katherine Meizel, "La Mujer Engañada: A romance in the Judeo-Spanish tradition". eHumanista, vol. 3, pp. 41-45. 
  12. I have compiled a database of Ladino songs, available at A brief survey will show the prevalence of the "sad/angry breakup" song, which I would estimate may total as much as 25% of the Ladino repertoire. 
  13. Katherine Meizel, "La Mujer Engañada...", pp. 42. 
  14. Ibid. 
  15. Saoud, Rabah. "The Arab Contribution to Music of the Western World." The Foundation for Science, Technology, and Civilization, 2004. 
  16. See the work of al-Farabi, al-Kindi and Safi al-Din. 
  17. Like a scale but more complex. Arabic maqamat infer patterns of notes, as well as scales. They are more complex than the Western idea of scales allows for. For a detailed explanation of Arabic maqamat in the present day, see
  18. See for a more in-depth analysis of period maqamat, and the medieval Arabic texts which talk about them. 
  19. Microtones are intervals that are smaller than the smallest intervals used in Western music. They are frequently very difficult for Westerners to understand. To the untrained ear, they can sound like "sour" or "pitchy" notes. 
  20. Francisco de Salinas, De Musica, p. 306.  
  21. Lévy, Isaac. Chants Judéo-Espagnols. London: World Sephardi Federation, 1959. 
  22. Trills are a vocal technique consisting of a rapid modulation between two notes, generally relatively close to one another in the scale. There are multiple techniques for accomplishing this, using different placements of the mouth and throat, and the Arabic styles of trills are clearly distinct from the Western versions. 
  23. See Endnote 6. 
  24. Very rapidly moving notes. 
  25. Katz, Israel J. "Introduction." The Nico Castel Ladino Songbook. Tara Publications, 1981, p. 7. 
  26. Schwarzwald, Ora. "Language Features of Ladino Translations across Time and Place." Phrasis: Studies in Language and Literature, vol. obscured in copy, 2006. & Moreno-Fernández, Francisco. "Spanish Language and Migration." The Routledge Handbook of Hispanic Applied Linguistics. Routledge, 2015, pp. 624-638. 
  27. This part of the analysis is extremely technical and may not be comprehensible to those without significant academic knowledge of music. For those people, a simplified understanding would be that there are particular ways of putting notes together that were used in period, and other ways that didn't develop until after the 16th century. We can use those differences to ascertain the likely provenance. 
  28. Katherine Meizel, "La Mujer Engañada: A romance in the Judeo-Spanish tradition". eHumanista, vol. 3, pp. 41-48. 
  29. Ibid. 
  30. This is based on my own exhaustive analysis of the recordings that I found. See Appendix D for a list of sources consulted. 
  31. See for a more in-depth analysis of period maqamat, and the medieval Arabic texts which talk about them. 
  32. This is my own unpublished translation of the Ladino text.