March 28, 2019

“More Than Friends?” On Muslim-Jewish Musical Intimacy in Algeria and Beyond

Keynote lecture by Dr. Jonathan Glasser, College of William & Mary
4:30 PM in Gearhart Hall 26

In scholarly and popular conversations about the relationship between Muslims and Jews in the Maghrib and its diaspora, music seems to challenge discourses that would emphasize Muslim-Jewish conflict and Jews’ status as outsiders to the North African social fabric. Yet on closer inspection, Muslim-Jewish interactions around music, and the conversations about them, rarely escape the tropes of rivalry, marginality, and ambivalence that have long permeated discourse about the Muslim-Jewish interface in North Africa. Focusing on Algeria, this talk suggests that by paying attention to the implicit theories of relatedness embedded in these conversations, we can both account for the centripetal force of such tropes as well as imagine richer alternatives for understanding Muslim-Jewish interaction in the Maghrib and its diaspora.

Performance of Galeet Dardashti’s “Monajat”

7:30 PM in Stella Boyle Smith Concert Hall (Fine Arts Building)

Using Persian melodies and Hebrew texts, Monajat pays homage to singer Galeet Dardashti’s grandfather, a master Persian classical vocalist. Monajat re-imagines the Selihot ritual in collaboration with an acclaimed ensemble of musicians, an electronic soundscape, and dynamic live video art.


March 29, 2019

9:00 to 5:00 PM in Gearhart Hall 258 (Second Floor Study Lounge)

8:30 AM Conference Welcome

9:00 AM Perils and Pleasures of Singing to the Neighbors - Joel Beinin, Stanford University

Israeli Mediterranean music developed in the 1970s and 1980s to express demands for equality for Mizrahim, who comprise more than 50% of the Jewish population of Israel. The genre deployed Hebrew lyrics and regional melodies and styles. Many who performed and promoted this music believed that acknowledging and valorizing Jewish cultural affinities with Israel’s neighbors could build a bridge to peace with them. Others, despite their musical commitments, identified, like many in their communities, with the religio-nationalist right (Likud and Shas).

Beginning in the mid-1990s, some Mizrahi musical artists began to sing directly to their neighbors in Arabic and other regional languages. Zehava Ben was a pioneer of these efforts. But despite the warm reception of her renditions of the modern classical repertoire of Umm Kulthum among Palestinians, she was rejected by most Egyptian intellectuals and musicians and was not permitted to perform in Cairo. Subsequently, Yasmin Levy, who for many years sang primarily in Judeo-Spanish, or Ladino (although her latest album consists of Hebrew songs), has been warmly welcomed by both Iranian (underground) and Turkish audiences. She has said that she considers herself Turkish and that Turkey is her “second home.” Iranian-born Rita rose to the status of “best female singer of the 2000s” singing in Hebrew. But in 2012 she released an all-Farsi album, “All My Joys” which is popular on the Iranian underground scene.

Many artists who have performed “authentic” versions of Middle Eastern music (as distinct from Israeli Mediterranean music) have a more popular following outside Israel. In addition to Yasmin Levy, they include: Yair Dalal, Yinon Muallem, and Mor Karbasi. Yinon relocated to Istanbul and Karbasi now lives in Spain.

Coming full circle, Sarit Hadad, whose parents came to Israel from Daghestan, is an Israeli pop music star, who sings in Hebrew, English, Arabic, Georgian, Turkish, and Greek. She was the first Israeli to perform professionally in Jordan (under a pseudonym). After establishing herself, she began to sing in Arabic to Israeli (primarily Jewish) audiences in Arabic.

There is no singular conclusion from these disparate stories. Israeli performers have been warmly welcomed in Morocco, Turkey, the Iranian underground scene ,and in émigré communities. Egyptians (although not the youth who followed Dana International) and Lebanese have been less enthusiastic. Music, it turns out can sometimes be a cultural bridge and sometimes a field of political struggle.

9:45 AM Israeli Transnational Cyber-Music Encounters with the Muslim World: Rita Jahan Farouz and A-WA - Galeet Dardashti, Jewish Theological Seminary

In 2011, Rita, Israel’s top pop music diva, released an album of Persian folk songs from the 1950/60s in her native Farsi.  Although she had immigrated to Israel from Iran at age eight, this was the first album in her thirty-year career in which she strayed completely from her Western-sounding Israeli pop fare.

Rita’s decision to return to the music of her childhood is understandable in the context of a decade in which Mizrahi pride is at an all-time high in Israel, and many second-generation Mizrahim excavate their cultural roots for artistic inspiration.   The album’s subsequent popularity as an underground favorite in Iran, however, was more surprising.  Thousands of fans in Iran illegally downloaded her album and many of them posted words of adoration on her Facebook page, on YouTube, and elsewhere on the Internet.

Similarly the Israeli sister trio, A-WA, released a 2015 album in which they sing in Arabic and lend the Yemenite traditional songs that they learned from their family some hip-hop and electronic flair.  Not only was the album a hit in Israel but A-WA’s music and music videos have received adoration from viewers in Yemen and elsewhere in the Arab world.  This paper seeks to apply an ethnographic approach to such transnational media—in Israel, Iran, Yemen, and beyond—in order to explore musically, politically, and discursively what enables these diverse music encounters to occur.

10:30 AM Coffee Break

10:45 AM Salima Pasha (Murad) – Doyenne of Iraqi song, and Mas‘uda al-Bambayliyyi – Daqqâqa (drummer, singer): The legacy of two Iraqi Jewish professional women musicians, Baghdad, c1910–1950 - Sara Manasseh, Independent Scholar

Salima Pasha (later Murad) and Mas‘uda Al-Bambayliyyi (“Mas‘uda the Bombayite”) were two professional Jewish women musicians who inhabited very different social spheres in a musical world dominated by men. Baghdad in the first half of the twentieth century was no place for any “decent” woman to perform in public as a musician, yet a handful of women were acknowledged musical experts, whether in private or public performance, whether for female or male audiences.

The hereditary daqqâqa profession, a women’s tradition associated mainly, but not exclusively, with the pre-wedding henna night (leilt-el-ḥinni), existed primarily in Baghdad, since at least the 18th century (Avishur 1990:98). The profession was sanctioned by the Rabbinate, perhaps because the daqqâqa herself initially performed exclusively for women, and was a mature woman past child bearing age. The daqqâqa sang, accompanying herself on the neqqâra (small timpani hit with two sticks), with a small chorus of women, one of whom played daff (tambourine). Her songs were in Judeo-Arabic and often improvisatory, the most famous being ‘Afâki (Bravo!), an acerbic text sung as though by the groom’s mother directed to the bride’s mother, in the ten-beat igreg rhythm (generally now known as jurjîna) – the rhythmic mode for all her leilt-el-ḥinni songs.

Conversely, Salima Pasha (1907-1973) performed initially as a dancer and singer in night clubs, to an exclusively male audience. More generally known as Salima Murad, she was the most renowned female singer of “Modern song” in Iraq during the first half of the twentieth century, and beyond. She was directed to change her family surname (Pasha) as it conflicted with the Prime Minister, Nuri Sayid’s honorific title “Al-Pasha”, and chose her father’s first name, Murad. Her songs were composed by foremost Iraqi musicians – the Al-Kuwaity brothers Saleh (violin) and Daud (‘oud, vocalist), from the 1920s, and by Salim Daud (violinist, vocalist). Salima also appeared weekly, on her programme on Baghdad Radio (established 1936), and when invited to private domestic functions, including henna evenings, arriving after midnight, following her night club performance.

It is unlikely that the daqqâqa group and Salima would have appeared during the same part of the evening’s entertainment. Unlike the daqqâqa, Salima was was able to command high fees and was often invited to perform for the Prime Minister, Nuri Sayeed. Salima married the celebrated Iraqi singer, Nadham Al-Ghazali (1921-1963), in the late 1950s, converting to Islam. Her songs appear on numerous recordings and in “Folkloric” collections of Iraqi song (Ḥilmi 1984, 1990), where only her name appears, as singer (but omitting the composer’s name). Her songs have continued to be sung widely, in Iraq and in the Iraqi diaspora, including in Israel. The most famous daqqâqa song, ‘Afâki, additionally enjoyed, and has continued to enjoy, an elevated status in the highest form of Iraqi art music, the Maqâm tradition, sung as a pesta by such renowned male reciter/singers of Maqâm (qâri maqâm), as Rashid Al-Qundarchi (1887-1948), in the original Judeo-Arabic dialect, but now in the mode of ṣaba and the six-beat sangîn samâ‘i rhythm. Some 78rpm recordings exist of original daqqâqa groups. The tradition itself has disappeared – even by the 1940s gramophone records of the latest fox trots often replaced the outmoded daqqâqa. Nevertheless, the repertoire has persisted and continues to be enjoyed at henna celebrations in the Iraqi Jewish diaspora – including the UK, North America, Israel.

11:30 AM From Koy-Sanjaq to Shtula: On the Forgotten Frontiers of the Judeo-Islamic Musical Intersections - Edwin Seroussi, Hebrew University, Jerusalem

Koy-Sanjaq (Koye in Kurmanji Kurdish) is a town located in the Erbil Governorate of Iraqi Kurdistan, close to the frontier with Iran. A vibrant if small Jewish community inhabited this city until the early 1950s. Most of the descendants of this community live today in the agricultural settlement of Shtula, just off the frontier between Lebanon and Israel. On the basis of an extended encounter between this community and students of ethnomusicology in 2017, a musical profile emerges that challenges accepted preconceptions of Jewish musical cultures in the frontiers of the Abode of Islam. Conversations with individual performers belonging to three different generations reveal the nuanced musical strategies deployed by them to convey the complexity of their positioning as Traditionalists, Moderns, Jews, Kurds, Iraqis and Israelis. Besides the exploration of music in Jewish Kurdistan, a subject far from being addressed by scholarship, the present examination challenges analytical concepts in music research such as frontiers, centers and peripheries, diasporas, nationalism and the balances of power between majorities and minorities.

12:30 PM Lunch Break

1:15 PM Music, Space, Time and Power in Jewish Morocco - Vanessa Paloma Elbaz, University of Cambridge

In Morocco, public and private performances have been intrinsically connected to gendered spaces and contexts which are passageways for indirect communication and the negotiation of power. This paper explores the use of music historically within the Jewish community and its relationship to its own inner politics, as well as Jewish Moroccans’ use of music as a form to connect with and influence the surrounding majority culture. As Morocco’s Jewish population wanes, Jewish music has become ever present in its public diplomacy efforts. This paper explores how this phenomenon is the logical contemporary iteration of a deep held tradition within Morocco and its relationship to its Jewish population.

2:00 PM Black Panthers, Andalus and the Half-Percent: The Politics of Ch’gouri - Hisham Aidi, Columbia University

2:45 PM Coffee Break

3:00 PM Algerian Jewish Musicians and the Politics of Recognition - Jonathan Glasser, College of William & Mary

Considerations of the musical politics of Muslim-Jewish co-existence, including such politics’ intersection with the image of al-Andalus as a lost place of tolerance, have tended to focus on their deployment in Europe, North America, and Israel. In contrast, this paper considers such musical politics inside Arab countries, with particular attention to the case of Algeria. Through a close reading of Fawzi Saadallah’s groundbreaking study of Algerian Jewish musicians, I try to situate the debates regarding Jews’ participation in Algerian musical life in several different relevant frames including the national narrative regarding colonialism, independence, and decolonization; debates about Arabness, Islam, and Algerian specificity; Maghribi and broader Arab conversations about Jews, Zionism, Israel, and Palestine; and the question of Algerian diasporic entanglement with and critique of post-1962 France.

3:45 PM Recording the Maghrib: Jews and the Early Commercial Music Industry in North Africa - Chris Silver, McGill University

This paper traces the rise of the commercial recording industry in Algeria, Tunisia, and then Morocco at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century in order to uncover the Jewish infrastructure that was at its core. It focuses on the Algerian Jewish impresario Edmond Nathan Yafil, who served as the first artistic director for the Gramophone, Pathé, and Odéon labels in Algeria and Tunisia. Alongside him, a host of Jewish A&R men marketed records as “Moroccan,” “Algerian,” and “Tunisian”––despite such musical categories never having before existed––to a public that was beginning to imagine themselves in those very terms. Parts history of technology and consumption, this papers also follows the production of early North African records from start to finish––including their distribution through a network of Jewish-owned record stores. It ends with the stunning expansion of the industry in the 1930s during the age of electrical recording. 

4:30 PM Discussion and Farewell