Music, Exile and Diaspora: the Jews of Arab Lands

Key information

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Module code
FHEQ Level
Department of Music & School of Arts

Module overview

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 Describe the itineraries of Jewish languages, rituals and instruments
  • Differentiate between sacred, traditional and popular music in the modern Middle East
  • Consider the circumstances under which music affects the civic status of religious minorities


  • 1 hour lecture
  • 1 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 1,000 word essay: literature review (worth 30%)
  • One 2,000 word essay: song itinerary (or 12-minute for a podcast) (worth 70%)


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules