Music, Healing and Pilgrimage in Morocco

Key information

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Module code
FHEQ Level
Department of Music

Module overview

Most of Morocco’s Jewish population emigrated in the twentieth century, but Morocco remains a crucial pilgrimage site for Moroccan Jews, who visit saints’ tombs and shrines every year. Indeed, Morocco is one of the few places in the Middle East and North Africa where Jewish life remains active today, both through its remaining population and through an active tourist network that supports a wider cultural economy of festivals, healing rituals and saint veneration. This module introduces students to the wide variety of healing and pilgrimage rituals in Morocco today, from the Gnawa lila to hip hop festivals hosted by the monarchy, the hillula as a paradigm for saint veneration, and Andalusi music festivals that attract mass tourism from France. We consider the way the government supports musicians and religious minorities through the programming of festivals, and the way life in cities changes with the patronage of pilgrims and tourist. We also examine the relationships that Muslim custodians of Jewish cemeteries retain with their former neighbours, and the special role of Morocco as a pilgrimage site for Jews. In the process, we also delve into some sensitive cultural issues like censorship, belonging, and the way that the memory of Jewish life in Morocco changes with shifting political ideologies.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

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

  • Gain an advanced understanding of Moroccan music within broader cultural contexts of the Middle East and North Africa;
  • Critically assess syncretic religious practice in North Africa;
  • Analyze the factors that facilitate sponsorship or censorship of musical style;
  • Contextualize 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 250-word abstract - 20%
  • One 750-word annotated bibliography - 30%
  • One 1,500-word (10-minute) podcast or video essay - 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