Singer, guitarist, songwriter, Stefani Valadez offers a rich repertoire of soulful romantic songs from many nations. Singing in five different languages, she has an international following of fans enchanted by her haunting voice and the fascinating musical and ethnic lore she weaves into her performances.
A third generation musician whose grandfather played with Benny Goodman, she learned guitar and harmony from her mother, a nightclub singer and piano player, and assorted Greenwich Village blues locals. Her musical tastes were diverse and eclectic from the beginning. Her musical inspirations include Taj Mahal, Dave Van Ronk, Grace Slick, Laura Nyro, Elis Regina and Antonio Carlos Jobim.
She first connected with folk music when Pete Seeger visited her summer camp in upstate New York to teach the children the songs of the people. She was never to forget those balmy summer evenings singing three part harmonies around the council.
Stefani began her professional career playing rock and roll, blues and folk in bars and clubs. Her first exposure to world music came when she agreed to accompany a friend who played the Romanian Pan Pipes. She found herself drawn to the Romanian laments and began to appear with him around the L. A. area.
Her introduction to Brazilian music came through a boyfriend who was a jazz pianist with a passion for the Brazilian idiom. Soon she was listening to the best artists of the Bahia region and playing the music. Next, she found herself in an all Woman’s Celtic Band.
Not long after this, a rabbi friend listened to her voice and dreamed of hearing her sing the ancient songs from the Sephardic culture of the old Spanish Jews. He gave her several recordings of old melodies and prayers recorded by university ethnomusicologists. Always attuned to Latin culture, her response was profound. “The power of these songs, the soulfulness of the minor chords, touched me deeply. There is richness and warmth and mystery in these songs, a deeper communication. And they tell stories: a lover’s longing, a mother’s love, stories from the Bible and the street. There’s a sense of pain here- a beautiful pain.”
Stefani had connected to her ancestral roots. It was only after she began to sing this music that she learned that her Italian father’s family had a line of Turkish Sephardic Jews and her mother’s family were part of a small group of Sephardic Jews in Poland.
“Stefani is keeping Sephardic Music alive. Before she
started performing, there were very few who were
doing these songs.” Simon Rutberg, Hatikva Music
Her deep heart connection to this music started her on a geographic and investigative journey. “I moved to Spain to explore the culture and to give my young son an experience of another country. The Jews had been banished from Spain for 500 years, but when people there found out I sang in the old Jewish language, they began to appear at my door with Ladino songs not only from Spain but from all over Europe and North Africa.”
“Stefani Valadez is a renowned master of Sephardic music.” Chicago Sun Times
Stefani Valadez is a masterful interpreter of songs from many cultures. She remains true to the spirit and melody of the originals but filters each one through her own musical sensibilities- jazz, blues, rock, Irish, American and international folk, Latin and Middle Eastern strands all weave magically through the tapestry of her talented Ensemble. Each performance is a rich, sensory journey through time and feeling that brings us home to the human family.
She has assembled a group of superb musicians from around the world, The Stefani Valadez Ensemble, incorporating the African dumbek drum, the Turkish Saz, clarinet, sax, bass, the cajon box drum from Spain, and guitars. Come hear this band and be prepared to dance.
Ms. Valadez has two albums available for purchase on Never Too Late Records.
Stefani Valadez-vocals, guitars, percussion
Nyofu Tyson-Baglama (Turkish lute), bass, vocals
Leo Chelyapov-clarinet, flute, saxes
Jamie Papish-middle eastern & world percussion
Christo Pellani-african & world percussion
Brandon Turner-upright bass
Lori Reimer-backround vocals (optional)
Melanie Kareem-dancer (optional)
"Other Voices", Never Too Late Records © 1997
"B'Nai Horin - Children of Freedom "Awe"-Never Too Late Records © 2000
© 2003. Never Too Late Records
Luna Negra Ranges far & wide
/Users/stefanivaladez/Desktop/Chicago Tribune, September 29, 2008.pdf
Culture Beat, Deshar Alhat
/Users/stefanivaladez/Desktop/JUF News 9-08 from Deshar Alhat.pdf
Stefani Valadez: A Sephardic Journey by Kirk Silsbee
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Stefani Valadez: A Sephardic Journey” by Kirk Silsbee Singer-songwriter Stefani Valadez ...
Stefani Valadez: A Sephardic Journey” by Kirk Silsbee
Singer-songwriter Stefani Valadez sings the songs of the Sephardim. An oud (a North African lute), and an ethereal wooden flute buoy her “Niggun.” Gypsy flamenco guitar flourishes, hand percussion that falls somewhere between Latin American and Middle Eastern, sliding vocal lines reminiscent of a Muslim call to prayer, lyrics in Ladino and Hebrew are all part of her music.
She’s lovingly exhumed songs that have largely been hidden and performs them somewhat regularly around Los Angeles. But Valadez is no academic preservationist, rendering spotless museum pieces. She’s an interpreter who tries to be true to the spirit and form of the original songs, yet filters them through her own musical sensibilities. Elements of jazz, blues, pop, American and international folk, Latin and Middle Eastern music all float in the emulsion of her music. The Stefani Valadez Ensemble will perform Thursday as part of the World Sacred Music Festival.
She has a pliant voice, which hints at many things. Valadez’s upper register is clear and pretty. On “Yo Me Enamori,” she can slide through waving microtones, keeping her vibrato in check, as though a floodgate holding emotion is indicated without being opened. The chest tones are husky, touching both the sensual and the devotional.
Valadez’s band is driven by acoustic guitar, Turkish saz, woodwinds and animated by hand percussion. Despite the mélange of au currant “world music” components, her vocals and the collective instrumentation conveys a sense of the Old World. Tiled courtyards, curving arches, Mediterranean flora, out door markets, filigreed arabesques and the memory of pungent spices can all be channeled through Valadez’s songs. Time seems to stand still in her music.
Simon Rutberg, proprietor of hatikvakmusic.com, the largest source for Jewish music in the world, recently put Sephardic music in perspective: Ladino is my 2nd biggest category. They were recorded and is performed differently by Turkish singers, Moroccan singers, Greek singers, etc.”
“Ladino is the other Yiddish, yet it’s a language without a country. Rutberg continued, “I’m told that around fifty years ago, there was a sizeable Sephardic community around USC in the Adams District. But they haven’t done a very good job of preserving their music. What’s important is that Stefani’s keeping Sephardic music alive. Before she started performing, there were very few people in the L.A. area who were even doing those songs.”
Valadez had her personal Sephardic epiphany some years ago. A rabbi friend loaned her an album of old Sephardic melodies and prayers, recorded by university ethnomusicologists. Its effect on her was undeniable. From her hotel room in Michigan (where her son was enrolling in his first year of college), the Venice resident recently recalled the power of those songs: “I instantly responded. The soulfulness of the minor chords just touched me deeply.”
How did Sephardic songs touch Valadez? “There’s a depth and a warmth and a soul to these songs. They require a deeper communication, and they tell stories: about a lover’s longing, a mother’s love, the story of Moses. But there’s also a sense of pain--a beautiful pain—that haunts them. It speaks of the past and the beauty offers hope for the future.”
That music provided a sound component to her ancestry. “My father’s mother’s family was Turkish Sephardic Jews,” Valadez stated. “My father’s father was Italian. My mother’s mother told me that her father’s family was from a pocket of Sephardic Jews in Poland.”
It also helped spark a geographic and investigative journey. “I moved to Spain,” Valadez explained, “out of a desire to live in a Latin culture. I sing in five different languages, so when people in Spain found out I sang in Ladino, they shared their songs with me and brought me compilationsfrom France, Morroco, Bulgaria.
Back in Los Angeles, Valadez recorded her first album (Other Voices, ‘97), a mixed bag that drew from many sources, including Celtic. It was followed by her second release, ‘02’s Ladino Alive! (both on the Never Too Late label), a collection of traditional Sephardic songs. The songs were interpreted with acoustic and electric guitars, soprano saxophone and flute, electric bass, the African goblet drum or dumbek, the box drum or cajon, the pear-shaped, ceramic dahola drum, and the pedal steel guitar.
Percussionist Jamie Papish has been working in the Stefani Valadez Ensemble since the band’s appearance at the 2005 World Sacred Music Festival. His playing represents his own personal odyssey. On his cell phone, Papish reveals: “I was an accountant for 20 years. I was 38 when I picked up the drum for the first time. I needed something else in my life and I gave up my business career.”
“Before I started working with Stefani, I was playing similar styles of music—with the Ron Yuval Ensemble and Rebbe Soul. She was part of my transformation. The music that we play is really heartfelt and soulful.” How does it grasp the realm of the sacred? “There’s something about the simple beauty of those songs that connects people with the ancient. To me, that’s sacred. It’s not very often we get to touch that in our lives these days.”
The value of her own particular gifts was not always apparent to Valadez. As she related, “I have roots in a lot of different kinds of music. In L.A., there were a lot of blues, rock & jazz singers already and there’s always going to be younger &/or prettier singers. “I realized, finally, you have to stop comparing and just do what you do. When you have a special talent, you have been given a gift—that nobody else has - so put it out in the World. It’s what you have it for.
Valadez concluded, “ I do take people on a journey with these songs. I’m trying to give my listeners something that’s accessible to contemporary ears, but that takes them to an ancient place.” Why? “When these songs were first being sung—in Medieval Spain--Muslims, Christians and Jews lived next to each other. They learned from each other’s gifts, in music, art and mathematics.” Pausing for an instant of reflection, Valadez added, “I’d like to think it’s possible that can happen again.”
World Sacred Music Festival: Sounds of the Mediterranean and Beyond: The Stefani Valadez Ensemble, 1st West Ensemble, The Ava Nahas Percussion Trio. Murphy Recital Hall, Loyola Marymount University, One LMU Drive, L.A., $20 pre-sale, $25 at the door; limited seating.
Jewish Journal, Sept. 12, 2008
Typical Set 45-1Hr.-Mostly arranged public domain Covers with a few originals.
Little Turns-Instrumental Jazzy/Latin Feel 4min
Hija Mia-Sephardic 4min
Lugar Comun-Brazilian 3min
Los Bibilicos-Sephardic 4min
Turkish Medley-Instrumental 7min
You Hold Up Half the Sky-Modern Sephardic-6min
Odessa Bulgar-Klezmer 5min
There are no upcoming dates at this time.