SOAS University of London

Department of Music, School of Arts

Jaffa: Music and Urbanism in the Contested Middle East

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2019/2020
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Year 2, Year 3 or Year 4
Taught in:
Term 1

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

At the end of the course, a student should be able to:

  • Identify and explain the styles of music that make up Jaffa’s soundworld;
  • Place the main musical styles in the broader context of their surrounding nations, Israel and Palestine;
  • Frame musical production in the Levant in the context of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim history;
  • Contextualize the performance of sacred, traditional and popular music in a contested historic city
  • Understand how Jaffa’s boundaries developed, and who traverses those borders;
  • Explain the role that religion and politics play in shaping the musical life of a city;
  • Consider the circumstances under which music bridges or divides populations.


Two hours Lecture

Scope and syllabus

With a documented history that reaches back to biblical times, the city of Jaffa is known as the “Bride of Palestine.” In its turbulent last century, its position has shifted from capital of an Ottoman region, to backwater emptied of its residents, to ghettoized “mixed city” to gentrifying quarter of Tel Aviv. With each realignment, the city’s demographic makeup has shifted, with remaining Christian and Muslim Arabs, and Jewish arrivals from the Balkans or from Tel Aviv contributing their own cultural imprint. Walking through the city, one can notice this shift through architecture and graffiti, and also through the sounds of otherness and belonging that characterize the city’s soundtrack. This module examines how sound and urbanism impact one another in Jaffa, with in-depth analysis of both musical styles and the ambient noise sometimes classified as soundscape. Listening to Mizrahi Jewish liturgy, Palestinian protest music, Balkan folk song and Arab hip-hop, as well as mainstream national material from Israel and the Arab world, we will engage with the entanglements of religion, politics, ethnicity and nation that often sit at the centre of musical production and consumption. In the process, we will explore the ways that music and sound contribute to a sense of place, even when the landscape is constantly shifting.


  • “The Bride of the Sea”: Jaffa in Levantine history and folklore
  • “Jaffa Shattered”: What Happened in ‘48
  • Jaffa as Metonym: the Mixed City
  • “White City/Black City”: Jaffa as Tel Aviv’s shadow
  • Musical Borderlands: Where Jaffa ends and TLV begins
  • Mizrahi music: New Immigrants in an Old City
  • ‘Ajami: Snapshot of a Neighbourhood in Transition
  • Hassan Bek Mosque: the Call to Prayer Under Pressure
  • Tzfonim come in: Gentrification of an Urban Soundscape
  • “The Intifada is There”: Jaffa as Space of Trauma and Reconciliation

Method of assessment

One 1,500 word essay (worth 30%); One 2,500 word essay (worth 60%); one listening exam (worth 10%)


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules