Aviva Chernick’s new album La Sirena immediately reminds me of two recent albums I’ve reviewed–Sofia Ribeiro’s Lunga and Alex Cuba’s Sublime–and not just because of the language difference. Ribeiro is from Portugal and sings in Portuguese, Cuba is Cuban and sings in Spanish, and Aviva Chernick sings in both English and Spanish and was raised in Toronto as a Ashkenazi Jew. She discovered the songs of Sephardic Jewish musician Flory Jagoda and became entranced by the Judeo-Spanish poetry in Jagoda’s works, and she has dedicated La Sirena to that specific mix of cultures, known as Ladino.
What Ribeiro, Cuba and Aviva Chernick have in common is a pure, beautiful voice that’s full of emotion. All three of these albums have an approach that mixes pop elements with folk music. La Serena stands out because Aviva Chernick moves so closely to some of the folk-rock we listened to in the ’70s from singers such as Joni Mitchell and Carole King. There’s an easy quality to these songs, with mostly acoustic instrumentation (although an electric guitar pops in once in a while), and yet it’s invigorating when the Balkan and Spanish influences slide into the melodies. We’re reminded that Aviva Chernick is standing at the intersection of two cultures, where most of the beautiful music in the world resides.
The heart of La Sirena is the student-mentor relationship between Aviva Chernick and Flory Jagoda. Aviva started traveling to Alexandria, Virginia twice a year so she could visit with Jagoda and study. There she learned of Jogoda’s family, especially her grandmother, who was her mentor when she was a child. Forty-four members of Jagoda’s family were killed during wartime, which leads Aviva to explain that “I wanted to know more and more about her stories, about being a survivor but also about life before.”
Soon Aviva enlisted the help of producer-guitarist Joel Schwartz and bassist-composer Justin Gray, and they set out to re-imagine Flory’s compositions. They’ve been working on La Serena since 2015, and here it is, glowing from within. Aviva Chernick’s voice is the star here, and she says she developed her style so that she could be free from being easily categorized. The musical arrangements are also endlessly intriguing, full of subtle surprises and tiny little details that capture your heart for just a fleeting moment. The sound quality is stunning, which really rounds out the package so to speak–there’s a completeness to La Sirena that’s rare and uncompromising and yet full of love and respect.