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Cambridge Inter-Faith Programme


For 15 years, Dr Vanessa Paloma Elbaz has been recording and documenting the musical traditions of Jewish women in Morocco. As NY Times reporter Aida Alami learned, this dwindling community's musical heritage is powerfully influenced by experience of living in another land: Spain.   

A full-length feature on Dr Paloma Elbaz's research appeared in last weekend's New York Times. Here is an excerpt:

Saving Historic Songs, and a Jewish Culture in Morocco

For centuries after the expulsion from Spain, Morocco’s Sephardic Jewish women sang of love, loss and identity. Now, they’re almost all gone.

By Aida Alami, June 19, 2022

TANGIER, Morocco — They sang to put their babies to sleep, or in the kitchen preparing Purim cakes. They sang in courtyards at night when the men were at synagogue for evening prayer, songs of love, loss, religion and war.

Today, most of those women, members of Morocco’s dwindling Jewish population, are gone. But they have left behind a rich historical trove of northern Judeo-Moroccan Sephardic culture, passed on from one generation to the next through oral history, that scholars of Judaism are striving to preserve before it disappears.

These fragments of history tell powerful stories from times long past, before the Moroccan-Jewish population that once exceeded 250,000 dwindled to the few hundred remaining, after several waves of emigration.

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Further information

Dr Paloma Elbaz is a CIP Affiliate and a researcher in the Faculty of Music. She hopes to secure funding to continue her work collecting, preserving, and interpreting this very distinctive heritage. Some examples of her musical collection can be found online in the open access archive Yalalla (

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