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Yallah 2024 – Judeo-Arabic Music Conference

Sunday 11th February | 9:30 am 6:00 pm


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Student/Concessions: £50
General Public: £60
LOCATION: SOAS University of London, 10 Thornhaugh St, London. WC1H 0XG
Conference tickets includes admission to the evening event with DJ Sharouh

Hosted by Joe Loss Reader in Jewish Music Dr. Ilana Webster-Kogen (SOAS University of London) & JMI Trustee Dr. Vanessa Paloma Elbaz (University of Cambridge)

JMI’s Judeo-Arabic Music conference returns for the second edition, featuring a day and evening of a keynote speaker, academic papers presented from the world’s leading international scholars, workshops from practitioners and closing the evening with music from Parisian French-Algerian Producer & DJ Sharouh.

“Joy & Sorrow in Judeo-Arabic Music and Ritual”

Music marks opposing emotional expressions of joy and sorrow in ritual celebrations. 
In Jewish life, rituals embody symbolic action and engender a processual flow (Turner 1967:149–50), sometimes invoking joy and sorrow within the same text. During moments of pain and sorrow, ritual communities equally rely on performers and practitioners to guide communities through feelings of catharsis, enlightenment, joy and exhilaration.  

The 2024 Yallah conference will feature presented papers from international academics on music of joy and sorrow from the varied diasporas of Arabic-speaking Jews. Repertoires will include the full spectrum of vernacular, paraliturgical and liturgical repertoires. We have invited multi-disciplinary approaches to this discussion from ethnomusicology and sound studies to comparative literature, history, religious studies, anthropology, gender studies and others.

Academic presenters:

Edoardo Marcarini
Dr Sara Manasseh
Dr Ilana Webster-Kogen
Mohammed Ghrab & Yoav Oved
Sarah Perez
Dr Vanessa Paloma Elbaz
Prof. Ruth Davis
Dr. Sami Everett
Isaac Montagu & Nina Randisi
Dr. Avi Eilam Amzallag

*The programme will be updated regularly.

Presenters, Academics and workshop leaders

Dr Ilana Webster-Kogen (Conference Convenor)


Ilana Webster-Kogen is the Joe Loss Reader in Jewish Music at SOAS University of London, and the author of the award-winning book Citizen Azmari: Making Ethiopian Music in Tel Aviv (Wesleyan University Press, 2018). She is spending the 2023/2024 year as a Research Scholar and Visiting Associate Professor of Music at Yale University while she completes her next book, entitled Traders, Chanters and Mystics: the Networked Afterlives of North African Torah Scrolls.

Session abstract: Shurukh: Reading Esther in Judeo-Arabic 

Megillat Esther is iconic and unique. The only book from the Prophets and Writings (Na”Kh) to be widely chanted from a scroll in the modern era, Esther is a text that demands mastery and expertise of its chanters. As a story of female heroism, it is underestimated and often misunderstood. In North Africa, many congregations would follow the text not in Hebrew, but in Sharkh, translation of the text into Judeo-Arabic. Books of Shurukh (plural) can be found today in archives among Judeo-Arabic documents that offer a multitude of insights into the print culture and ritual life of Jewish communities in North Africa. In this presentation, I unpack the different ways that Judeo-Arabic documents speak to Jewish communities’ attitudes towards the acquisition and use of Torah scrolls and Esther scrolls. We will consider the ways that individuals would bequeath scrolls to their community as a legacy; how and when a Beit Din would get involved in discussions of ownership; and where communities would turn to price and commission scrolls. These sources reveal a thorough commitment among Jewish communities to scrolls and Hebrew text, and in studying the vernaculars of translation and correspondence over those texts, we can appreciate the hidden roles that women played in the safeguarding of sacred texts.


Dr Vanessa Paloma Elbaz (Conference Convenor)

Dr. Vanessa Paloma Elbaz is Research Associate of the Faculty of Music at the University of Cambridge, and Senior Research Associate of Peterhouse. A recipient of a Marie Sklodowska Curie Fellowship of the European Research Council, a Senior Research Fulbright and Posen Foundation Fellowships, her research focuses on the sonic diasporas from the expulsion of 1492. She is a Trustee of the Jewish Music Institute.

Migrations from Arabic speaking Jews in and out of 18th and 19th century Ottoman Jerusalem and environs brought with them texts, songs, melodies, instruments and beliefs. Due to the multilingualism of the city and its inhabitants, Hebrew often became the lingua franca, especially regarding compositions for liturgical worship. However, Judeo-Arabic was a liminal central language to Jewish life, functioning in exchanges of Egyptian,Syrian, Yemenite and Moroccan Jews such as the Rashash, R. Shalom Sharabi, the head of the Kabbalistic Beth El Yeshiva, originally from Yemen; the Hida, a pupil of the Rashash and great grandson of Rabbi Avraham Azoulay of Fez; and Haim Farhi of Damascus, from the distinguished Syrian family. All three men spoke and most probably sang private sphere songs in Arabic but published almost exclusively in Hebrew and Aramaic.
My paper explores the intersections between song, intimacy, sound, alphabets, contact and belief in the process of negotiating liminality and belonging through the sonic during a period of migrational movement and nationalistic change.

Dr Ruth Davis

Dr. Ruth Davis – Reader in Ethnomusicology, Corpus Christi College, University of Cambridge “Jewish Women in Arab song”


Dr Avi Eilam Amzallag

Amzallag was born in Casablanca, Morocco and in 1952 immigrated to Israel where he studied at the Tel Aviv Teachers’ College of Music and the Rubin Academy of Music in Tel Aviv. He studied playing the flute with Uri Toeplitz and composition with Leon Shidelovsky. He composed many works and songs, and worked as a flutist and composer in several institutions.

As a master’s thesis he submitted a research paper on Eden Partosh’s Maqamat for Flute and Strings. He completed his Ph.D. studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and submitted his doctoral dissertation on “Modal Aspects of the Singing of Supplications (“Bakkashot”) Among Morocco Jews”, under the guidance of Professor Amnon Shiloah and received a doctorate in 1986. In addition, he studied Hebrew medieval poetry, Arabic and English literature.

Avraham Amzallag (Eilam) served as a musicology lecturer in the Department of Music at the University of Haifa. He lectures in the fields of folklore and musicology at universities in Israel.

Amzallag-Eilam’s musical style combine Eastern Melos with Western compositional techniques. His works fuse Oriental Jewish melisma and modern techniques. In 1994 he participated in the establishment the Israeli Andalusian Orchestra and served as its musical director and chief conductor for nine years from its establishment. For the first time the Jewish version of the Andalusian music was transcribed by him into Western notation.

As a researcher, he researched the Jewish music of North Africa and published books and articles in this field.

Dr. Eilam Amzallag won various prizes for his works and for his contribution to the Israeli music. Among the prizes: Luciano Berio Award; The Israel Chamber Orchestra Prize, the Tel Aviv Municipality Prize for the Performing Arts and the Golden Age Award.

Dr Sami Everett

Bio: Samuel Sami Everett (who goes by Sami) is a Senior Research Fellow at Aix-Marseille Université and the University of Southampton. He is also Research Fellow at the Faculty of Asian and Middle East Studies at the University of Cambridge. He was ethnographic research lead for the cross-national (France-Germany-UK) ORA Joint Research Project “Muslim-Jewish encounter, diversity & distance in urban Europe: Religion, culture and social model (ENCOUNTERS)”
Session title: Curating commonality: multimodal materialities of intercommunal northern African Jewish and Muslim heritage
Session abstract:
“I centre the case of curating commonality specifically on northern African encounters and interactions across generations embedded within the shifting shape of museum cultures as a function of changing narratives on empire, race, and religion. As a counterpoint to the museum, I explore the co-construction of narratives generated by the grassroots Dalâla festival for North African Jewish cultures which in 2023 ended on a cemetery visit of Reinette l’Oranaise, whose biography, music, and contemporary reception, alongside pianist Mustapha Skandrani, I presented to an intergenerational audience.”

Edoardo Marcarini


Edoardo Marcarini is a PhD candidate in the Music Department of SOAS University of London with a background in ethnomusicology and popular music performance. His research explores the current musical repertoires of Iranian Jews in Israel, and their relevance in the performance of Iranianness and the expression of identity, memory and nostalgia.

Esfahan to Jerusalem through Pir Bakran, the journey of a regional Jewish repertoire from Iran

During its long history in Persia, the Jewish community of Esfahan has developed a distinct repertoire of para-liturgical songs known as “Shira”. These songs uniquely synthesise Jewish, Iranian and Esfahani cultural tropes: musically, they are based on Persian modes employed uniquely to support their texts; thematically, they draw from diasporic and biblical themes, entangled with local folklore to write locality in collective Jewish narratives; linguistically, they combine Hebrew and Persian words or use the local Judeo-Esfahani dialect, setting the canon apart from other Jewish repertoires from Central Asia, the Levant, and North Africa.

Dr Sara Manasseh

Dr Sara Manasseh is an ethnomusicologist and performer of the music traditions of the Jews of Iraq. Her publications include articles, CDs, and the book, Shbahoth – Songs of Praise in the Babylonian Jewish Tradition: From Baghdad to Bombay and London (2012, Ashgate) with accompanying CD: More Precious than Pearls.

Sorrow and Solace, Elation and Humour: Lullabies and Pilgrimage Songs of the Jews of Iraq Sara Manasseh

Lullaby texts may evidence dual emotions, contrasting a mother’s sorrowful state with solace in her child, providing catharsis. The ziyyāṙa (Pilgrimage; lit. ‘visit’) to the tombs of prophets was central to Iraqi Jewish life, celebrating festivals and life cycle events. Pilgrimage songs offer a window, sometimes humorous, on contemporary life.

Yoav Oved & Mohammed Ghrab

JMI Practitioner Yoav Oved will perform and give a workshop on Yemenite Jewish song and traditions with Mohammed Ghrab.

Here is a presentation on Yemenite Jewish musical traditions and history that Yoav Oved presented for the JMI Online Yallah series in 2021. He pays particular attention to how liturgical practice and life-cycle events provide an insight into the communities distinct ethnomusicological identity both within the Middle Eastern cultural paradigm and the world map of Jewish musical specialism and identity.


Sarah Perez

Session title: DJ, Producing and re-working Judeo-Arabic music in the 21st Century.

Mediterranean DJ / Producer based in Paris, Sharouh invites electronic to mix with music from the Maghreb to the Middle East, via Greece and Turkey. In a process of cultural rewriting, she works on different forms of musical syncretism (Judeo-Arabic, Amazigh, Mizrahi) as well as the role of women in this heritage. She is the author of several remixes of Tunisian Jewish singers such as Raoul Journo or Habiba Msika, icon of Maghrebian woman power.

Isaac Montagu

Isaac Montagu: Mikra for Joy and SorrowIsaac Montagu is a musician, dancer and Jewish educator. With roots in London’s Spanish and Portuguese Sephardi community, Isaac is currently researching Sephardic liturgical music via a PhD at SOAS, as a scholar of the Jewish Music Institute. Isaac is also editor of a new series of Sephardic siddurim (prayer books), focused on gender and queer inclusive religious practice.

£45.00 – £60.00
SOAS, Main Building, Thornhaugh Street, Russell Square,
London, WC1H 0XG
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