Undergraduate & Postgraduate Courses

Based in the School of Oriental and African Studies, part of the University of London, we work closely with the SOAS Music Department on their Ethnomusicology programmes. We are also committed to providing learning and development opportunities to as wide an audience as possible through our programme of Summer Schools and year-round workshops which cater for all ages and abilities.

JMI has helped to develop a compelling Jewish music strand at Undergraduate level and a full programme at Masters and Postgraduate level. We also support the Joe Loss Lectureship in Jewish Music at SOAS as well as offering a flourishing scholarship scheme for studies in Jewish music at Masters and PhD level, sponsored by the Mildred Loss and Sir Jack Lyons Studentship Scheme. PhD projects can be practice-led, fieldwork-based, or theoretical. Please contact the Joe Loss Lecturer in the first instance to share your research interests and discuss options.

The following courses are offered as part of the BA Music Studies and MMus Ethnomusicology programmes:

Exile has been the defining characteristic of Jewish culture for most of Jewish history. Across the Arab world, the Sephardi and so-called Mizrahi Jews developed unique languages, rituals and musical styles over centuries that continued to grow following dramatic expulsions like those in 1492 or following 1948. In turn, Jewish musicians often shaped the soundworlds of their host cultures even as they continued to move across and around the Mediterranean. This class focuses on the itineraries of the Jews of Arab lands, examining the trajectories of musical styles that traveled from Babylonia, Yemen, and medieval Spain, through Livorno, Fez and Baghdad, and continue to live on today in Jerusalem, Casablanca and Brooklyn. We examine the musical framing of diaspora, and how the movement of people changes the way groups come to reframe music as memory. We also consider ritual and text, and the way each shapes intimate and sacred spaces. Thinking about some musical styles that have faded away and some that continue to flourish, we re-centre the Jewish musical experience around its Sephardi/Mizrahi history, with triangular routes of movement and memory.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

This module introduces students to the basic concepts in diaspora studies through the lens of Jewish music in the Arab world. In the process, students will be able to

  • Analyze the structure and style of some of the most important musical genres of the Middle East and North Africa
  • Describe the itineraries of Jewish languages, rituals and instruments
  • Differentiate between sacred, traditional and popular music in the modern Middle East
  • Explain the circumstances under which music affects the civic status of religious minorities

Scope and syllabus

Each session traces the itinerary of musicians to and from the Arabic-speaking world, tracing major events in Jewish history through musical, ritual and textual interventions:

  1. Babylonia – Baghdad – Givatayim
    (the Talmud to Judeo-Arabic)
  2. Basra – Be’er Yaakov – Hatikvah
    (remixing the oud)
  3. Mawza – Sana’a – Kerem HaTeimanim
    (Shabazi’s liturgical poetry)
  4. Aden – Addis Ababa – London
    (Trade, Empire and Torah)
  5. Aleppo – Brooklyn/Jerusalem
    (Pizmonim and Bakkashot)
  6. Alexandria – Cairo – Ashdod
    (Cosmopolitanism and the Geniza)
  7. Oran – Marseille – Montreal
    (Francophone cosmopolitanism)
  8. Livorno – Djerba – Netivot
    (Sainthood and Pilgrimage)
  9. Granada – Tetouan – Bat Yam
    (Ladino pathways)
  10. Fez – Paris – Netanya
    (Mobility and class)


Morocco is unique in its religious, cultural and musical diversity. With a Jewish population that dates back over a thousand years, a Berber population that has its own languages, and former slaves who were brought from sub-Saharan Africa over centuries, Morocco’s official culture is a diverse array of ethnic minorities who are often invisible in other parts of the Middle East and North Africa. This module delves into the musical genres that make Morocco unique, from Andalusi to Gnawa, including contemporary Judeo-Arabic pop, hip hop post-Arab spring, and the religious practices of Jews and Muslims. We examine the official musical styles that are recognized and sponsored by the Makhzen (the monarchy and its government), and the underground and grass-roots styles that are performed in private spaces or remote regions. We also consider the role that music festivals play in facilitating movement between unofficial and official status, and the impact of tourism on Moroccan culture. In particular, we consider the unusual status of Morocco as a pilgrimage site for Moroccan Jews who travel from France and Israel to visit saint’s shrines, and the relationships that Muslim custodians of Jewish cemeteries retain with their former neighbours. With an emphasis on festivals, pilgrimage and veneration, this module frames Moroccan Jewish life and culture within broader contexts of religious and popular cultural production today.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of this module a student will be able to:

  • Situate Moroccan music within broader cultural contexts of the Middle East and North Africa;
  • Critically analyze syncretic religious practice in North Africa;
  • Identify the factors that contribute to a musical style being sanctioned or censored by government;
  • Understand the history of Jewish life in North Africa;
  • Explain the role of travel, tourism and pilgrimage in cultural production in Morocco.

Scope and syllabus

  1. Festivals and the Makhzen: official and unofficial musics
  2. Andalusian music from the eleventh to the twentieth century
  3. Cemeteries: the custodians of memory
  4. Gnawa and possession rituals
  5. Judeo-Arabic pop
  6. Torah scrolls: performing empire
  7. Moroccan Islams
  8. The hillula: saint veneration and syncretism
  9. Hip hop, or why is Morocco the main source of Music literature for the Arab spring?
  10. Andalusian diasporas


Dr Ilana Webster-Kogen, Joe Loss Lecturer in Jewish Music

Ilana Webster-Kogen’s research focuses on transnational networks of Ethiopian migrant musicians. In each of her research projects, she examines the dynamics of diaspora and citizenship across a variety of musical styles: Azmari performance, Eskesta dance, hip hop, and the fusion and neo-soul projects sweeping the Ethiopian diaspora. In each local case study, Ilana looks to the music scene for insight into how Ethiopian migrants adapt to their host society.

She is currently completing a book manuscript, based on ethnographic fieldwork among Ethiopian migrant musicians in Tel Aviv, which analyzes the subtleties of marginality and challenges of integration. She argues that while Ethiopian-Israelis maintain the social taboo against criticizing state patrons, musicians encode cultural critique into music in a way that is readily recognizable to their audiences through the Ethiopian literary device of “wax and gold.” Musicians negotiate communal feelings of marginality through choices of musical conventions that are inaccessible to outsiders because Ethiopian culture remains isolated in Israel. Her time in Israel-Palestine has yielded additional research interest in nationalism and conflict, which she teaches about with the support of the JMI (Jewish Music Institute).

For her next project, “Musical Networks of the Ethiopian Diaspora,” Ilana examines the multidirectional flows of musical influence across six Ethiopian diaspora cities. As the Ethiopian population expands, women in particular are traveling to Europe, the Persian Gulf, and North America to work for remittances. Over the next five years, she is conducting participant-observation-based fieldwork across the transnational circuit of Ethiopian performers, analyzing how contextual shifts in the practice of particular musical conventions (such as the influence of new religious movements like Pentecostalism) frames debates over citizenship rights.

Contact Ilana to find out more about her courses and to discuss options at Masters and PhD level.

The Joe Loss Lectureship in Jewish Music is currently being partially supported by the Jankel Family, the Azrieli Foundation and the Simon Richard Marks Charitable Trust.

Dr Abigail Wood, Previous Joe Loss Lecturer in Jewish Music

Abigail was the Joe Loss Lecturer in Jewish Music at SOAS 2007-2013. She specialises in contemporary Yiddish song and klezmer, music among minority and immigrant communities in Israel and music and religion. She is particularly interested in urban and internet-based fieldwork. Her research includes soundscape field recordings in relation to identity, music and place in Jerusalem.  She regularly contributes to publications on popular Jewish music in Israel, and contemporary Jewish music and modernity.

Contact Abigail