One of the major influences on her music comes from the Sephardic Jewish tradition. She explains, “Sephardic music is the music of the Jews who were expelled from Spain in 1492. They went to places in the Balkans, Turkey, Greece and the Maghreb. They brought their language with them which is a form of old Spanish that’s also known as Ladino or Judeo-Spanish."
She continues, “The language incorporated different words from the different areas they arrived in after they were expelled from Spain but it’s even understandable if you can speak modern Spanish. They also incorporated local rhythms like 9‘s in the Balkans, 7‘s in Greece and 6/8 wedding rhythms in Morocco.”
Her current project, Ventanas, came to life after she began a musical exchange with Mark Marczyk who now leads The Lemon Bucket Orkestra. Ilana says, “Ventanas really came about when I moved back from to to Seville. Mark and I started teaching each other the music that we knew and then we brought in one piece of the group at a time. Let’s say that it was all tied to my life’s repertoire.”
The approach that the band takes to making music starts with experimentation. Ilana says, “We’re doing things like playing flamenco on an oud or Sephardic music on a flamenco guitar. We know we can do it, we just have to figure out how exactly it works. We’re starting to write original music too. Each member of the group brings their own musical roots with different traditions and different bases together. We’re seeing what we can create from it.”
Another important part of Ventanas is the dance element. Ilana brings her flamenco dance training to bear and the band has also worked with dancers in other traditions. In the future, she says, they’d like to do more dance collaborations.
Ilana is keen to highlight the skills of her band members. She says, “Our oud player is Demetrios Petsalakis. He’s an incredible multi-instrumentalist. He plays electric guitar and baglama as well as the oud and he brings his own Greek musical background to the table. Derek Gray is our percussionist. Part of his background comes from India so he brings a whole different feel and sound to the music.”
She continues, “Benjamin Barille is our flamenco guitarist. He is focused on flamenco but he writes and composes his own music within that tradition. Jessica Hana Deutsch is our violinist and she also does vocals. She he has has an amazing ear, she comes up with great harmonies and she has perfect pitch. Our double bass player, Justin Gray, is our percussionist’s brother. They’re super tight when they play together. “