SOAS University of London

Department of Music, School of Arts

Music in Morocco: Saints, Shrines and Scrolls

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2022/2023
FHEQ Level:
Taught in:
Term 1

Morocco is unique in its religious, cultural and musical diversity. With a Jewish population that dates back over a thousand years, a Berber population that has its own languages, and former slaves who were brought from sub-Saharan Africa over centuries, Morocco’s official culture is a diverse array of ethnic minorities who are often invisible in other parts of the Middle East and North Africa. This module delves into the musical genres that make Morocco unique, from Andalusi to Gnawa, including contemporary Judeo-Arabic pop, hip hop post-Arab spring, and the religious practices of Jews and Muslims. We examine the official musical styles that are recognized and sponsored by the Makhzen (the monarchy and its government), and the underground and grass-roots styles that are performed in private spaces or remote regions. We also consider the role that music festivals play in facilitating movement between unofficial and official status, and the impact of tourism on Moroccan culture. In particular, we consider the unusual status of Morocco as a pilgrimage site for Moroccan Jews who travel from France and Israel to visit saint’s shrines, and the relationships that Muslim custodians of Jewish cemeteries retain with their former neighbours. With an emphasis on festivals, pilgrimage and veneration, this module frames Moroccan Jewish life and culture within broader contexts of religious and popular cultural production today.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of this module a student will be able to:

  • Situate Moroccan music within broader cultural contexts of the Middle East and North Africa;
  • Critically analyze syncretic religious practice in North Africa;
  • Identify the factors that contribute to a musical style being sanctioned or censored by government;
  • Understand the history of Jewish life in North Africa;
  • Explain the role of travel, tourism and pilgrimage in cultural production in Morocco.


One hour lecture, one hour seminar

Scope and syllabus

  1. Festivals and the Makhzen: official and unofficial musics
  2. Andalusian music from the eleventh to the twentieth century
  3. Cemeteries: the custodians of memory
  4. Gnawa and possession rituals
  5. Judeo-Arabic pop
  6. Torah scrolls: performing empire
  7. Moroccan Islams
  8. The hillula: saint veneration and syncretism
  9. Hip hop, or why is Morocco the main source of Music literature for the Arab spring?
  10. Andalusian diasporas     

Method of assessment

  • One 700-word artist profile - 25%
  • One 700-word song comparison - 25%
  • One 1,200-word (9-minute) podcast - 50%

Suggested reading

  • Bilu, Yoram. 2010. The Saints’ Impresarios: Dreamers, Healers, and Holy Men in Israel’s Urban Periphery. Brighton, MA: Academic Studies Press.
  • Boum, Aomar. 2013. Memories of Absence: How Muslims Remember Jews in Morocco. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
  • Glasser, Jonathan. 2016. The Lost Paradise: Andalusi Music in Urban North Africa. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Gottreich, Emily. 2020. Jewish Morocco: a History from Pre-Islamic to Postcolonial Times.
  • Kapchan, Deborah. 2008. “The Promise of Sonic Translation: Performing the Festive Sacred in Morocco.” American Anthropologist 110 (4): 467-483.
  • Kapchan, Deborah. 2007. Traveling Spirit Masters: Gnawa Trance and Music in the Global Marketplace.
    Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press.
  • Moreno-Almeida, Cristina. 2017. “Reporting on Selective Voices of ‘Resistance’: Secularism, Class, and ‘Islamist’ Rap. International Journal of Cultural Studies 21(4): 343-358.
  • Salime, Zakia. 2015. “‘I Vote I Sing’: The Rise of Aesthetic Citizenship in Morocco.” International Journal of Middle East Studies 47(1): 136-139.
  • Salois, Kendra. 2014. “Make Some Noise, Drari: Embodied Listening and Counterpublic Formations in Moroccan Hip Hop.” Anthropological Quarterly 87(4): 1017-1048.
  • Schuyler, Philip D. 1985. “The Rwais and the Zawia: Professional Musicians and the Rural Religious Elite in Southwestern Morocco.” Asian Music 17(1): 114-131.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules