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Faculty of Music

Dr Vanessa Paloma Elbaz


Research Associate, Past and Present Musical Encounters across the Strait of Gibraltar
Research Associate, Peterhouse
Jewish Music
Gender Studies
Memory and Oral Tradition
Sephardi Sacred & Secular Music


Vanessa Paloma Duncan-Elbaz has a Ph.D. from the Sorbonne’s CERMOM research group of the INALCO (Center for Middle Eastern and Mediterranean Studies of the National Institute for Oriental Languages and Civilization). Her dissertation “Contemporary Jewish Women’s Songs from Northern Morocco: Core Role and Function of a Forgotten Repertoire.” which received “félicitations du jury” was nominated for the best dissertation of the year of INALCO for 2018. She is an alumna the Early Music Institute at Indiana University’s School of Music (MM) where she studied vocal performance practice of Medieval and Renaissance secular monody under Thomas Binkley and Paul Elliott. Her undergraduate studies in vocal performance were at Oklahoma Baptist University and Universidad de los Andes (BM Magna Cum Laude). Vanessa was a Senior Fulbright Research Scholar to Morocco in 2007-2008 and Research Associate of the Hadassah Brandeis Institute of Brandeis University (2009-2016). 

In 2014, she founded KHOYA: Jewish Morocco Sound Archive to collect, digitize, classify, and analyze contemporary and historical sound recording of Moroccan Jews.A 2014-2016 Posen Fellow and 2015-2018 Research Fellow of the Tangier American Legation Institute for Moroccan Studies, her research and publications focus on identity transmission, and the use of music and language in interactions between Moroccan Jews and the majority culture.Her research has been supported by the American Institute for Maghrib Studies, Maurice Amado Foundation, Righteous Persons Foundation, and California Council for the Humanities amongst others.

Vanessa has an international performance career as a singer of Moroccan Jewish repertoires and has been described as “a kind of one-woman roving museum of her own” by The New York Times.  Her groundbreaking performances and lectures on five continents—including Los Angeles’ World Festival for Sacred Music, Paris’ Institute du Monde Arabe, Bogotá’s National Museum, Santa Fe’s Crypto-Judaic Studies Conference, and Ifrane’s Hillary Clinton Center for Women's Empowerment at Al Akhawayn University—have been featured on PBS, NPR, PRI, I24, France24, and Al Jazeera International amongst others.


My work for the project "Musical Encounters Across the Strait of Gibraltar" focuses on personal and official uses of the Jewish voice in the building of national and transnational identity. Drawing on archival work, oral histories and discourse analysis, my research focuses on the role that Jewish music and musicians played in colonial and post-colonial cultural interactions. 

My work theorizes how the creation of publicly accepted Jewish heritage repertoires in Spain and Morocco during the last century follows a pattern supported by philosefardi intellectual discourse which began before the Protectorate.  My research also explores how official Moroccan and Spanish institutions narrate the voice of the Jewish minority through a century-long span of research and cultural diplomacy. While looking not only at the official narrations of minority voices, but at the impact of performances of “Jewish” repertoires by both Jewish and non-Jewish performers and cultural activists, my research unearths the slow and complex story in which national identities are built through music, history and the entanglement between recreation and reinvention of memory. I am currently working on a book proposal tentatively entitled: From Your Mouth to the Heavens: (Trans)Nationalism, Diversity and Jewish Music in Spain and Morocco (1890-2020).

My dissertation research explored why Judeo-Spanish women's sung repertoire from northern Morocco continues to occupy a central place within the group's identity contruction even while being almost completely forgotten in practice.  Judeo-Spanish women from Northern Morocco are considered to be the fulcrum of the group's holiness, transmission and continuity. This places them in a powerful position regarding the group's informal power, but simultaneously, it imposes stringent social controls on them primarily to protect their sexuality for the patriarcal line. Women's voices and their encoded messages function as the group's core identity, which they use as a buffer to protect themselves from assimilation to the majority. My work speaks to the fact that the female Judeo-Spanish voice has protected the group when faced to its surrounding cultures, while simultaneously integrating cultural elements from those very cultures of contact. It is this oscillation between inner and outer cultural elements of identity which permits the building of a supple Judeo-spanish identity while maintaining a hermetic core group.


Key publications: 


Refereed Journal Articles 

Jewish Music in Northern Morocco and the Building of Sonic Identity boundaries Journal for North African Studies, 2021. 

Thomas Binkley’s influence: twenty five years on, EARLY MUSIC, August. 2020

De tu boca a los cielos: Jewish women’s songs in Northern Morocco as Oracles of Communal Holiness, Hesperis-Tamuda, Vol. LI Fascicule III, 239-261.

Muslim Descendants of Jews in Morocco: Identity and Practice. Journal of Spanish, Portuguese and Italian Crypto-Jews. Vol 7, (2015), pp. 41-60.

Edited Refereed Volumes

Listening to the ‘Other’ through the Ear: Contemporary Traces of Protectorate Politics through Music, Festschrift for Prof. Mohammed Kenbib, ed. Khalid BenSghrir, Faculté des Sciences Sociales et Humaines de Rabat, In press.

Common Language: Popular Music and its Message in Jews and Muslims in Morocco: Uncommon Commonalities, ed. Jane Gerber, Joseph Chetrit and Drora Arussy, Lexington Books, In Press.

Land, Voice, Nation: Popular Jewish Music in Spain and Morocco in the continuously imagined al-Andalus ed. Tina Fruhauf in Oxford Handbook for Jewish Music, Oxford University Press.

KHOYA: Jewish Morocco Sound Archive: Jewish sounds, voices, memories in creative uses. ed. Nadia Sabri, In Search for Archives: Creating the Postcolonial Archive. University of Konstanz Press. In press.

Connecting the Disconnect: Music and its Agency in Moroccan Cinema’s Judeo-Muslim Interactions. Dynamic Jewish-Muslim Interactions across the Performing Arts in the Maghreb and France, 1920-2020. ed. Samuel Everrett and Rebekah Vince, Liverpool: Liverpool University Press (Francophone Postcolonial Studies series), (2020), 201-221.

Female Narratives in Moroccan Judeo-Spanish Romances in Mehqerei Ma'arav U-Mizrah- presented to Professor Moshe Amar, ed. Moshe Bar-Asher et. al. Mercaz Dahan (2018) pp. *1-*18.

Kol b’Isha Erva: the Silencing of Jewish Women’s Oral Traditions in Morocco. Gender and Law in the Maghreb, Ed. Doris Gray and Nadia Sonneveld, Cambridge University Press. (2017), pp. 263-288.

Trespassing religious boundaries: Mernissi's work in reading Jewish Moroccan women's lives Ed. Najib Mokhtari, Defaulting Boundaries of Islamic Feminism: The Dialogics of Difference in Fatema Mernissi’s Writing. International University of Rabat Press. (2017)

Judeo-Spanish Melodies in the Liturgy of Tangier: Feminine Imprints in a Masculine Space. Musical Exodus: Al-Andalus and its Jewish Diasporas. Ed. Ruth Davis, Rowman & Littlefield. (2015), pp. 25-43.

The Power in Transmission: Haketia as a Vector for Women’s Communal Power. Judeo-Spanish and the Making of a Community, Ed. Bryan Kirschen, Cambridge Scholars Press. (2015), pp. 172-193.

Gender and Liturgy in Music: Masculine and Feminine Forms of Language and Ritual in Sephardic Secular and Sacred Music. Perspectives on Jewish Music: Secular and Sacred. Ed. Jonathan L. Friedmann. Lexington Books. (2009), pp. 7

Other publications: 

Conference Proceedings

Los Cantares de las Antiguas: recuerdos sobre la transmisión femenina en el Norte de Marruecos. Actas del 18 Congreso de Estudios Sefardíes del CSIC, Madrid 2014. Ed. Aitor García Moreno and Elena Romero. (2018)

Judeo-Spanish in Morocco: Language, Identity, Separation or Integration? Migrations au Maghreb. Ed. Frederic Abecassis and Karima Dirèche. Centre Jacques Berque and CCME. La croisée de chemins. Casablanca, 2010. (2012), pp. 103-112.