Friday, December 19, 2003

Kiswahili and Ladino on the Radio

I have always been enamored with radio. I remember as a child getting a clock radio for Christmas (one of the best presents ever). I would lay in bed turning the dial amazed by the different songs and programs I could hear and never quite understanding why the AM station down the street that I would listen to during the day would disappear after sundown, to be replaced by a station from Pittsburgh. This fascination with radio has continued (and I make my living writing about broadcasting), so it is no surprise that I was suckered in by the headline "Swahili broadcast strikes a chord on local airwaves" in yesterday's Prince George’s Gazette.

The article, by combining radio with languages, grabbed me on two levels. First, a local radio story that reminds me there's more on the air in town than college radio (WMUC-FM), NPR, Pacifica (WPFW(FM)), and very, very few commercial stations that can be listened to for more than a half-hour at a time. Second, I know there is a large African immigrant population in the D.C. area, but I didn't realize there were some 50,000 Kiswahili-speakers in the area, and that 9,312 people in Prince George's County speak an African-language at home. The article did miss a few details: The program, entitled "Sauti Njiwa," will be moving to WFAX(AM), 1220 kHz, in January and is an evangelical Christian program. According to the "Sauti Njiwa" website, the broadcaster is looking to expand its program to stations in New Jersey, Minnesota, Texas and California.

On a different note, "Morning Edition" today had a segment on a new album of Ladino music, A la Una -- In the Beginning by Sarah Aroeste. The album sounds interesting, mixing Ladino language and some traditional instruments/rhythms with more contemporary rock, jazz,. and dance music influences.

The segment includes some thoughts on the development of Ladino from Aroeste and Rabbi Marc D. Angel of Congregation Shearith Israel, the Spanish-Portuguese Synagogue in Manhattan. One interesting comment (and the story is probably apocryphal), when asked to note similarities between Ladino and the other languages that it drew from, Angel pointing to the Ladino and Castellan Spanish words for God -- Dio in Ladino and Dios in Castellan. Angel said Ladino dropped the s from Dios because the s sound made the word sound plural and they believe in only one God. The segment concluded with Aroeste singing a Ladino Chanukah song, "Ocho Kandelikas."

[Sidenote: חֲנוּכָּה ("rededication") has only five letters in the original Hebrew. In English there are at least 17 ways to spell it, including: Channuka, Channukah, Chanuka, Chanukah, Chanuko, Hannuka, Hannukah, Hanuka, Hanukah, Hanukkah, Kanukkah, Khannuka, Khannukah, Khanuka, Khanukah, Khanukkah and Xanuka. Source: Biblical Holidays]

Looking further afield for more about Ladino, I ran across the Ladinokomunita:
News of the death of Judeo-Spanish (Ladino) have been greatly exaggerated. This beautiful Sephardic language is not only used daily, but it is the only acceptable language of communication in our virtual community called Ladinokomunita. The members of this Internet chat group, who may reside hundreds and thousands of miles from each other on earth, have discussions with each other daily via e-mail in the language they all understand. In other words, here, Ladino (Judeo-Spanish) is indeed very much alive!
The site includes some MP3s of spoken Ladino, a quick introduction to the language, and original Ladino fiction and other writings.

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