Laila al-Sanna' al-Andalusiyya

From EastKingdomWiki

Laila al-Sanna' al-Andalusiyya
Resides: Canton of Broken Bridge
Status: Active
Awards: Order of Precedence
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Award & Office Badges
HarpArgentCaid.png Troubadour


Sayyida Laila al-Sanna’ al-Andalusiyya is the Chatelaine of the Crown Province of Ostgardr, and recently stepped down as the Queen's Bard, and the Bhakail Arts & Sciences Champion. She specializes in late medieval and Renaissance vocal and theatrical performance. She is most known for her performances of 13th-15th century Ladino music, and her groundbreaking research into the roots of Sephardic musical traditions. Laila is also building a reputation as a visual artist, receiving particular notice for her Renaissance-style chiarascuro figural studies in charcoal and clay. She is a student of Master Peregrine the Illuminator.

Laila teaches classes on vocal performance, classical Arabic music, late Renaissance English theatre, and the historical role of courtesans in the performing arts. She is currently working with The Honorable Lady Ajir Tsagaan to develop new classes on color theory and figure drawing. Laila is the head of the House of the Lotus, a 16th century Safavid Persian house of courtesans. Laila is the Chair of Opera Studies for the East Kingdom College of Performers, and is a member of the Keepers of Athena’s Thimble, the Velvet Mask, the Knowne World Courtesans, and Clan Blue Feather.

Sayyida Laila has been in the SCA since 1993, almost all of that time spent in Caid (Barony of the Western Seas, Barony of Angels, and Barony of Lyondemere). She has recently moved to the East Kingdom, and expects the move to be permanent. She is in a relationship with The Honorable Lady Ajir Tsagaan and Sayyid Jibril al-Ghazal.

Sayyida Laila al-Sanna' al-Andalusiyya is the former Bard of Caid, and a member of the Order of the Troubadour and the Order of the Harp Argent (Caid). She was formerly known as Elizaveta Arievna Lebedeva.


"Set your life on fire. Seek those who fan your flames."

- Jalāl al-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī




I am a Persian courtesan and court singer of Jewish and Arab descent, raised in Spain before the expulsion in 1492.

I was born in the Kingdom of Gharnata, where the air smelled like orange blossoms and the golden sun reflected off gilded domes and marble minarets. My father was a renowned military officer. He came from a good Muslim family of noble descent, and he held a position of great respect and authority in the community. My mother was a Jew from Realejo, the daughter of a rabbi. My very existence straddled worlds.

I was raised in a villa on the outskirts of the city. I had the best tutors in Gharnatah. I was given a complete education - virtually the same education that would have been given to a boy, except for the military components, which were replaced by subjects more “suited” to a girl: poetry, embroidery, dance and music. My mother hired a special tutor, a rabbi, to teach me Hebrew, Ladino, and Torah studies. She also taught me her native Ladino songs, which I adored. I lived an idyllic existence.

Then, in 1491, my father died defending the nation. A year later, we lost the war, and the last remnant of the glory of al-Andalus fell to the Christian heathens. My mother, unable to tear herself away from the world she knew, chose to remain in Spain as a marrano, hiding her religion and her heritage, in flagrant violation of the Edict of Expulsion. I chose to leave and seek my fortune in the east.

Accompanied by a dozen of my father’s retainers and by my aunt, Safiyya, I loaded the family wealth into a caravan and left the country of my birth forever. I traveled east for almost a year, stopping in Paris, Rome, Venice, and Constantinople. I was exposed to art, music, theatre and culture. I received a second education on my travels.

In many great cities, I discovered there lived a class of women who were free from the bonds of marriage, called courtesans. These women were smart, witty, talented, and above all, independent. The courtesans in Venice were the happiest, most satisfied women I had ever come across. “Proper” women looked down on them, of course. But the courtesans didn’t seem to care. They were quite happy with their wealth and celebrity, and generally unconcerned about the petty gossip which followed in their wake.

When I arrived in Isfahan, I presented myself as a courtesan and gained a position in one of the great courtesan houses, owing in no small part to my excellent education and singing voice. There, I was taught those secret arts that only courtesans know - the arts of flirtation, seduction, and pleasure, as well as the skills a courtesan must master to survive, such as painting the face, artfully draping one’s clothing, sitting and walking and standing with grace, and charming conversation.

Soon I had gained renown as one of the finest singers in Persia. I was invited to the court of the Shah, and became one of his favorite entertainers and companions. I traveled with him to the far corners of Persia and even to the Mughal Empire in the east, where I heard Indian singers for the first time. I prevailed upon the rajadasis, the Indian Shah’s courtesans, to teach me some of their songs and dances, that I might bring them back to the Safavid courts. I implored our European visitors to teach me the newest songs from Italy and bring me manuscripts for theatrical plays from England and France.

Finally, after I had served the Shah for many long years and earned his trust, I asked him for his blessing to form my own house of courtesans. He honored me by gifting me with a plot of land on which to build our estates, and two of his own ghulam — Georgian eunuchs who had shown considerable talent in music and dance.

Six months later, we presented ourselves in court for the first time as The House of the Lotus. We are a new house, and our name is not yet known, but soon we will be the greatest courtesan house in all of Isfahan.

Offices & Positions

  • LyonBard (Baronial Bardic Champion), Barony of Lyondemere, Caid, 2004-2005
  • Arts & Sciences Officer, Barony of Lyondemere, Caid, 2005-2006
  • Bard of Caid, Caid, January 2007 to January 2008
  • Retainer to TRM Willhelm and Vienna, East Kingdom, October 2018-present
  • Chair of Opera Studies, East Kingdom College of Performing Arts, December 2018-present
  • Bhakail Arts & Sciences Champion, Barony of Bhakail, December 2018-December 2019
  • Chatelaine, Crown Province of Ostgardr, January 2019-present
  • Queen's Bardic Champion, East Kingdom, February 2019-February 2020

Recent Competitions

  • 2nd Place, Vocal Performance, Ffesty Pen Eisteddfod, Barony of Settmour Swamp, 11/3/2018
  • Winner, Paper & Ink, St. Eligius Arts & Sciences, Barony of Dragonship Haven, 11/10/2018
  • Winner, Bhakail Arts & Sciences Championship, Bhakail Yule, Barony of Bhakail, 12/8/2018
  • Queen's Bard, King & Queen's Bardic Championship & Baronial Investiture, Dragonship Haven, 2/23/2019

Event Staff

  • Class Instructor, Harper's Retreat, August 2002
  • Class Instructor, 100s of events in Caid, 2003-2008
  • Class Instructor, Hunter's Moon, 08/31/2018 to 09/03/2018
  • Class Instructor, The Feast of John Barleycorn, 09/07/2018 to 09/09/2018
  • Court Musician, Coronation of Wilhelm von Ostenbrücke and Vienna de la Mer, 09/29/2018
  • Class Instructor, Deck the Halls of Valhalla, 1/12/2019
  • Class Instructor, EKCoP Bardic Challenge, 3/2/2019
  • Class Instructor, Gulf Wars, 3/9-3/17/2019
  • East Kingdom Representative, Gulf Wars A&S War Point, 3/9-3/17/2019

*Co-Music Coordinator, Coronation, 4/6/2019

  • Demo Volunteer, Viking Day Demo, 5/18/2019
  • Class Instructor, Panteria, 5/24-5/27/2019

*Competition Steward & Judge, Comedy Bard Competition, Great Northern Thyng, 7/5-7/8/2019

  • Class Instructor, Pennsic 48, 7/28-8/10/2019

*Co-Music Coordinator, Coronation, 10/5/2019
*Competition Coordinator & Judge, Bhakail Arts & Sciences Championship, Bhakail Yule, 12/14/2019
*Music Coordinator, Twelfth Night, 1/4/2020
*Competition Co-Coordinator & Judge, Queen & Crown Bardic Championship, 2/22/2020

  • Class Instructor, Collegio de Iberia, 7/17-7/18/2020
  • Class Instructor, Bardic Madness, 7/23/2020
  • Class Instructor, Courtesan College, Virtual Pennsic, 8/6/2020

*Performance Coordinator, Courtesan Showcase, Courtesan College, Virtual Pennsic, 8/6/2020
*Event Steward, EKCoP: A Day at the Opera, 8/23/2020

  • Class Instructor, EKCoP: A Day at the Opera, 8/23/2020

*Performance Coordinator, Opera dell'Est Showcase, EKCoP: A Day at the Opera, 8/23/2020

  • Class Instructor, Knowne World Bardic Symposium, 8/28-8/30/2020
  • Class Instructor, Grand Ithra, 9/5-9/7/2020
  • Class Instructor, SCA Iberia Online Class Series, 9/19/2020

*Co-Event Steward, The First Bardic War, 5/15-5/23/2021
*Co-Event Steward, Bardic War II, date TBD, probably January 2022

Classes Offered

  • Medieval and Renaissance Vocal Performance
  • Introduction to Classical Arabic Music
  • Songs of Sorrow: Ladino/Sephardic Song
  • Shakespeare's Advice to the Players: Authentic Renaissance Acting Technique
  • Diaries, Speeches & Letters: Non-Traditional Monologue Material for the Discerning Actor
  • Renaissance Vocal Ornamentation
  • Courtesans and the Performing Arts
  • Persona 101: Finding Yourself in the SCA

The Renaissance Art Foundations Workshops

w/ THL Ajir Tsagaan & Sayyid Jibril al-Ghazal

  • Color Theory & Gouache Technique for Scribes
  • Drawing and Composition
  • Still Life Drawing
  • Nude Figure Drawing
  • Clothes Figure Drawing
  • 1-Point Perspective
  • 2-Point Perspective
  • 3-Point Perspective

Projects & Publications

Research Projects

Compendium of Arabic Musical Modes & Structures In Use Before 1600

IN PROGRESS. I am systematically collecting and categorizing the maqamat (musical modes), iqa'at (rhythmic modes), musical forms and structures whose use can be documented before 1600. This includes in depth analysis of period sources, including al-Farabi, al-Kindi, al-Ghazali, and Safi al-Din, as well as a study of modern scholarship on the topic, especially the work of H.G. Farmer. If you are interested in contributing to this project, especially if you are able to read Arabic, Persian, or Turkish, please contact me.

Compendium of Period Ladino & Sephardic Music

ON-GOING. I am building a library of period Ladino and Sephardic music (sheet music, recordings, and videos). In cases where I have been unable to locate published sheet music, I have been transcribing the songs from recordings. The compendium includes multiple versions of some songs, as well as a range of options on ornamentation. If you have pieces that you would like to contribute to the compendium, please contact me.

Resource List: Courtesans in the Performing Arts

ON-GOING. I am building an anotated bibliography (with links) of resources pertaining to the role of courtesans in the performing arts before 1600, categorized by time period and culture.

Design Projects

Household Architecture Project: The Lotus House

IN PROGRESS. Led by The Honorable Lady Ajir Tsagaan, The House of the Lotus is embarking on a large-scale project to design our household estates, located in Isfahan, Persia, in the year 1599. The project will include a research paper, drawings and elevations, and a scale model.

In Case of Court

Sayyida Laila usually attends court. She does not mind being called up without notice. She is in a wheelchair and it may take her some time to process to the dais.

NO HACK-HANDS ON AWARD SCROLLS PLEASE. Real Hebrew, Arabic, or Farsi are excellent. English is also great.


Contact THL Ajir Tsagaan or Sayyid Jibril al-Ghazal for a copy of Laila's ICOP.

More Information

Artistic Interests

Performing Arts

  • Period Vocal Music (Ladino, Persian, Arabic, early Italian opera, European art song)
  • Classical Arabic Music (vocal performance, composition)
  • Persian Music (vocal performance, composition)
  • Renaissance English Theatre (performance, composition)
  • Persian Poetry (performance, composition)
  • Persian Dance
  • Bharata Natyam (Classical Indian dance) - no longer practicing, due to disability

Visual Arts

  • Italian Renaissance Drawing (chiaroscuro)
  • Renaissance sculpture
  • Indian sculpture

Scribal Arts

  • Calligraphy (preferred hands: English Bastard Secretary, Batarde, Fraktur)
  • Arabic Calligraphy
  • Hebrew Calligraphy
  • Sanskrit Calligraphy
  • Illumination (multiple styles)

Fiber Arts

  • Embroidery (multiple styles)
  • Kumihimo
  • Costuming (especially Persian and Turkish)

Research Interests

  • Safavid Persia
  • Andalucia before and immediately after the fall of Cordoba
  • The role of courtesans in the performing arts
  • Women's history
  • Professional performing artists in the Renaissance
  • Jewish history
  • The silk road
  • Early opera, oratorio & music for the stage

Guild Memberships & Affiliations

  • East Kingdom College of Performers
  • The Velvet Mask (Company of the Sable Domino)
  • Knowne World Courtesans Guild
  • Clan Blue Feather
  • Keepers of Athena's Thimble

Disability Needs

Sayyida Laila has a rare disease that affects her mobility and causes her joints to subluxate and dislocate frequently. She uses a wheelchair, but can walk short distances with forearm crutches, and very short distances unaided. Should an emergency occur at an event, please inform paramedics that she has Vascular Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome with Hypermobile Crossover, and is at severe risk of aneurysm and organ rupture due to faulty collagen. She must not be handled roughly, as this could result in multiple dislocations.


Parting Words

"Do not feel lonely, the entire universe is inside you.

Stop acting so small. You are the universe in ecstatic motion.

Set your life on fire. Seek those who fan your flames.”

- Jalāl al-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī