Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Judeo-Arab Music Collection at Casablanca's Jewish Museum

The Museum of Moroccan Judaism of Casablanca is a museum of history and ethnography, created by the Jewish Community of Casablanca in 1997 with the support of the Foundation of Jewish-Moroccan Cultural Heritage. It uses world-class standards of conservation for its national and international collections. Recently it featured an impressive collection of Judeo-Arab music recordings

Since 2007 the performer and researcher, Vanessa Paloma El Baz, has been collecting recordings of Judeo-Moroccan songs.

"Many young people here have never heard of Judeo-Arab music," she says.

Vanessa Paloma El Baz, a Moroccan Jew,  presented her collection at the Museum of Moroccan Judaism, as part of a debate.

El Baz says her passion is to revive the memory of a not so distant past: in the 1950s, the kingdom had nearly 300,000 citizens of the Jewish faith. But successive Arab-Israeli conflicts, calls to emigrate to Israel and many departures to France and Canada in particular have brought this presence to less than 5,000. Moroccan Jews, however, remain the largest Jewish community in North Africa.

The music project was presented under the title of "Khoya: sound archives of Jewish Morocco" - was chosen to reflect a common heritage. "Khoya" has a double meaning, "my brother" in Arabic dialect and "jewel" in Spanish.

"Morocco's Jews and Muslims are brothers that share the same customs and who must work together to revive this heritage," said Ms. El Baz.

The sound library includes two types of records: songs and popular Moroccan Jewish music in a commercial format and recorded stories told by Moroccan Jewish families of citizens both Jews and Muslims.

"Khoya" is still incomplete, notes Vanessa Paloma El Baz, explaining that many Moroccan Jews settled in Israel, Europe and North America have recordings, videos and photographs that could enrich the collection

Gathering the Moroccan Jewish music "was not easy," she said, referring to the reluctance of some families to hand over these records.

On one of the photos she has collected are two Jewish singers in the side of Sultan Mohammed V,  on the occasion of a celebration for the birth of the future king Hassan II.

For Ms. El Baz, this photograph is a symbol of "living together in peace."

Adopted in 2011 in the context of the Arab Spring, the new Constitution of Morocco recognized the Hebrew component as part of the culture of the kingdom.

The Museum of Moroccan Judaism, founded in Casablanca by the Moroccan writer and politician Simon Levy. has a large display of clothing, jewelry and handicrafts .

The presence of Jews in Morocco "goes back 2,500 years" and was reinforced by waves of refugees especially from Andalusia, says the curator of the museum, Zhor Rhihl.

Fleeing the Reconquista of the Catholic kings, the Jews of Andalusia flocked to Morocco from the fifteenth century.

Beyond the preservation of a period of history, Vanessa Paloma El Baz has a larger vision. "I dream of a national sound library that would save the Moroccan oral culture as a whole, not just the Jewish heritage," she said, "otherwise, it is a legacy that could disappear."

The Museum, which covers an area of 700 square metres, is the first of its kind in the Arab world. It consists of a large multipurpose room, used for exhibitions of painting, photography and sculpture. Three other rooms containing exhibits on religious and family life (oil lamps, Torahs, chanukah lamps, clothing, marriage contracts (ketubot) Torah covers…) and exhibits on working life. Two rooms displaying complete Moroccan synagogues. There is also a document library, a video library and a photo library.

The Museum offers guided visits, sponsors seminars and conferences on Jewish-Moroccan history and culture, and organizes video and slide presentations.

On special request, it organizes group visits in Arabic, French, English or Spanish.

The Museum details
81, Rue Chasseur Jules Gros, Oasis-Casablanca
Tél : +(212) 5 22 99 49 40
Fax : +( 212) 5 22 99 49 41
E-mail :

Entrance fee is 40 dirhams - school groups are free

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