Moroccan Jewish Music

Moroccan Jews conserved and amalgamated religious and secular musical traditions, improvised upon them, and popularized them. Often playing their music with Muslims, they helped develop music that was authentically Moroccan. Musicologists have been working for several years to collect, analyze and preserve Moroccan Jewish Music. One important project is Khoya: The Jewish Moroccan Sound Archive, an effort by Vanessa Paloma Elbaz to bring together in Morocco recordings of the full range of Moroccan Jewish music. Here is an interview with her on the project.

Here is a video of some of women’s songs and oral memories Khoya is preserving in the Haketia language, the Moroccan dialect of Ladino (Judeo-Spanish).

Haketia Songs in Khoya: The Jewish Moroccan Sound Archive

Another important initiative is the effort by musicologist Chris Silver to collect, analyze and share rare recordings of North African Jews and their diaspora. His work began with Jewish Maghrib Jukebox and continued with Gharamophone.

Israeli musicians with Moroccan Jewish ancestry are exploring their Moroccan roots. Kamal Hachkar’s 2019 film, “In Your Eyes, I See My Country” traces the voyage to Morocco of Neta Elkayam and Amit Haï Cohen. Elkayam and Cohen meet musicians, government officials, former neighbors, and children in the remote reaches of the country, wondering what it would take to mend their fragmented identities.

Moroccan Jewish secular music brings together Andalusian, Melhoun and cabaret music from the 1950-60s sung in Judeo-Arabic or French. Some of the major musicians include Haim Botbol, Samy El Maghibi, Albert Suissa, Cheikh Mwijo, Raymonde El Bdaouia, Felix Elmaghribi and Zahra ElFassia. Both Jews and Muslims were enthusiastic about their music.

Moroccan Jewish secular musicians in the 21st century, whether they live inside or outside of Morocco, preserve and go beyond the music of their 20th century predecessors. Here are some musicians that continue to play in Morocco.

Jauk Amram Elmaleh, is considered the father of gnawa-jazz. Gnawa is a mystical, religious trance music that brings together Moroccan and Sub-Saharan African musical traditions. Elmaleh has recorded 14 albums and is known as the White Gnawi.
Li Habibi Oursil Salam – Ya Nahel from Insiraf Bssit mizan in Nuba Lahgaz Lakbir
Kinor David Maroc is an association based in Casablanca of lovers of Arabo-Judeo-Andalous music

Morocco is known for Hebrew and Judeo-Arabic liturgical music, including psalms, baqashot (supplications), and piyyutim (poems sung at Jewish life cycle events, holidays and at pilgrimages to the tombs of Jewish saints). Baqashot and piyyutim are influenced by the mystical religious tradition of Kabbalah and have been sung by Sephardic Moroccan men for centuries on Shabbat before dawn. They are performed either a capella or with Andalusian orchestras. Here is one piyyut sung by Jacob Wizman, who studied with the great Moroccan Jewish author of baqashot and piyyutim, David Buzaglo.

Jacob Wizman performing “Yadeha Tanheni,” a baqasha from R. David Buzaglo.

Moroccan Jewish music is beloved at Jewish life-cycle rituals, such as bar mitzvahs and weddings.

Here is traditional Chaabi music from a wedding ceremony of Moroccan Jews in Israel.

Moroccan Jews contributed to Amazigh music, such as the Ahwash music associated with Amazigh dance groups that perform in Morocco today. Some Moroccan-Israeli musicians, such as Barukh Ben David and Shalom Swissa introduced Amazigh music to Israel. Here is Amazigh instrumental music performed by the Jerusalem Andalusian Orchestra.