Saving Historic Songs, and a Jewish Culture in Morocco

6:31 PM Aida Alami 0 Comments

 


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.

The women were for centuries confined to Jewish quarters, captivated by a world very distant from theirs, singing ballads that eventually became tonal elements of their culture. They latched on to music to preserve their identities and traditions.

The songs, known as “romances,” are a heritage of the Reconquista, or Reconquest, when Christians in medieval Spain waged a centuries-long battle against Muslim occupation. As the Reconquista was nearing its end in 1492, Jews who refused to convert to Christianity were expelled. Many of them ended up in Morocco, bringing their Spanish heritage with them.

 

Read the rest of the story on the New York Times.

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