Lily Henley and Duncan Wickel are two artists at the forefront of folk music today. With influences that span cultures and continents, and strong commitments to both tradition and experimentation, Henley and Wickel both offer us music that is as melodically rich as it is emotionally resonant.
When singer, fiddler and songwriter Lily Henley set out to make an album of Sephardic Jewish ballads set to new melodies, she was looking for her own way to interpret a critically endangered tradition. On Oras Dezaoradas (out on Lior Éditions Records), Henley highlights the Ladino language, a threatened tongue that fuses old Spanish with Hebrew, Arabic, and Turkish elements that is spoken by less than 100,000 people in the world today. She found herself directly connected to centuries of women spread across a forced global diaspora. But the album is not a reinterpretation project – Henley’s newly-penned songs are a reclamation of and contribution to this tradition.
These old ballads carry the hopes and dreams, daily worries, and existential thoughts of the Sephardic people. They tell stories of everyday life, loss, exile, lovers' quarrels and advice-seeking daughters. Henley brings new life to these songs and the independent female characters in them – transforming the tradition along the way. These songs draw from a well so deep that disparate listeners all feel a connection to their own heritage. Henley’s songs are a living line to the rich history and culture of her Sephardic ancestors.
Henley’s forthcoming album, Imperfect By Design, is a kindred sister to her last. This time, though her songs are set in our modern world, they still center women’s experiences with themes of embodiment, emancipation and sovereignty. Each song is built from the ground up with lapping and overlapping plucked fiddle rhythms as well as electric guitar, synth, cello, drums and Henley’s soaring vocals. In concert, she weaves ancient and modern languages, cultures and styles to reveal their interconnectedness, and ours.
Henley is a recipient of the prestigious Fulbright award and was an Artist-in-Residence at the Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris. She has performed at Carnegie Hall, the Caramoor American Roots Festival, and the New York Sephardic Music Festival. She’s currently touring with mystic-folk band Rising Appalachia and has played with Irish guitar virtuoso John Doyle, Americana Instrumentalist of the Year Brittany Haas, and Grammy winners David Krakauer, Rushad Eggleston, The Duhks and many more.