SOAS University of London

Department of Music, School of Arts

Music, Exile and Diaspora: the Jews of Arab Lands

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2021/2022
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Taught in:
Term 1

The Jewish people have been on the move for as long as they’ve been called Jews. Key dates of expulsion define Jewish history - 586 BCE, 1492, post-1948 - but took place in regions that are today associated with Sephardi/Mizrahi Judaism. This class will consider the musical styles of the Jews of Arab lands through the experience of exile and diaspora. Focusing on the languages, rituals and musical styles that developed over centuries across the Arab world, we will examine how the experience of Jewish exile helped to shape Middle Eastern and North African soundworlds. This class focuses on the itineraries of the Jews of Arab lands, examining the trajectories of musical styles that traveled from Babylonia, Yemen, and medieval Spain, through Livorno, Fez and Baghdad, and continue to live on today in Jerusalem, Casablanca and Brooklyn. We examine the musical framing of diaspora, and how the movement of people changes the way groups come to reframe music as memory. We also consider ritual and text, and the way each shapes intimate and sacred spaces. Considering genres that are developing today in new centres of Sephardi/Mizrahi life, and others that exist only in collective memory today, we examine how music, memory and diaspora inform one another.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

This module introduces students to the basic concepts in diaspora studies through the lens of Jewish music in the Arab world. In the process, students will be able to:

  • Analyze the structure and style of some of the most important musical genres of the Middle East and North Africa;
  • Frame cultural production through the prism of diaspora;
  • Explain how culture travels;
  • Describe the itineraries of Jewish languages, rituals and instruments;
  • Differentiate between sacred, traditional and popular music in the modern Middle East;
  • Explain the role that religion and politics play in shaping the musical life of a city;
  • Consider the circumstances under which music affects the civic status of religious minorities.


  • One hour Lecture, one hour Seminar

Scope and syllabus

Each session traces the itinerary of musicians to and from the Arabic-speaking world, tracing major events in Jewish history through musical, ritual and textual interventions:

  1. Babylonia – Baghdad – Givatayim
    (the Talmud to Judeo-Arabic)
  2. Basra – Be’er Yaakov – Hatikvah
    (remixing the oud)
  3. Mawza – Sana'a – Kerem HaTeimanim
    (Shabazi’s liturgical poetry)
  4. Aden – Addis Ababa – London
    (Trade, Empire and Torah)
  5. Aleppo – Brooklyn/Jerusalem
    (Pizmonim and Bakkashot)
  6. Alexandria – Cairo – Ashdod
    (Cosmopolitanism and the Geniza)
  7. Oran – Marseille – Montreal
    (Francophone cosmopolitanism)
  8. Livorno – Djerba – Netivot
    (Sainthood and Pilgrimage)
  9. Granada – Tetouan – Bat Yam
    (Ladino pathways)
  10. Fez – Paris – Netanya
    (Mobility and class)

Method of assessment

  • One podcast (reading review) of 500 words (4 minutes plus time for music) - 10%
  • One 500 word song review - 10%
  • One 1,500 word (or equivalent) song itinerary - 70%
  • One 30 minute listening test - 10%


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules