The Music of Morocco’s Jewish Women

June 21, 2022 | Aida Alami
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For centuries, the Jews of Morocco were confined to Jewish quarters, where they cultivated a unique musical culture—especially the women among them. Moroccan-Jewish “romances,” as their songs were called, often reflected family histories that included being driven out of Spain. Aida Alami writes:

Vanessa Paloma Elbaz, an American scholar of Judeo-Spanish music at Cambridge University, has spent the last fifteen years collecting and archiving the voices of aging Jews in Morocco. To date she has inventoried over 2,000 entries (mostly recordings, and some photos and videos); a pilot of the archive is available online. Paloma Elbaz has family roots that date back five generations in Morocco.

“If we think we have no written texts from the women, we are wrong,” she said. “Some archives were sitting in Spain and nobody was paying attention to them.”

“It’s about learning how to read them,” she added. “They sent all kinds of messages. If they were sad about something, they would sing some of these songs to pass a message on to their husbands.”

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