Skip to main content
European Commission logo print header

Encoding, Absorption and Abandonment of Cultural Material during Migration: : The Case of Judeo-Spanish Songbooks

Project description

Decoding Judeo-Spanish songbooks

Sephardic music has its roots in the musical traditions of the Jewish communities in medieval Spain, Portugal and other countries in the Mediterranean, where they lived before their expulsion from the Iberian Peninsula in the late 15th century. The lyrics, preserved by these communities, still play a core function in establishing identity markers and gender negotiations. This repertoire of songs blossomed through the 18th century. It was created for personal use and for transmission to their descendants. The ground-breaking EU-funded MigrEnAb project will analyse the individual songbooks as part of a larger pan-Mediterranean corpus of Judeo-Spanish songbooks. The study will address identity transmission inclusively, absorbing elements of the surrounding cultures, while protecting the boundaries of the group.


Since the 18th century throughout the Mediterranean basin Judeo-Spanish men and women have notated songs they want to remember in personal songbooks. Both Oriental (Ottoman Empire) and Occidental (North Africa & Gibraltar) Judeo-Spanish communities still have an enormous sung repertoire which plays a core function as identity marker. It is also centrally positioned for symbolic roles and gender negotiations. Historically, this repertoire was notated in songbooks which were created both for personal use or for transmission to their descendants.
The porousness of repertoire found within these private books which function as objects of orality demonstrate the continued absorption and interpenetration of languages and cultural references during various centuries. Songbooks served as cultural reminders of the layered identities that Judeo-Spanish speakers sought to preserve. While keeping traditional repertoire, the writers of these songbooks simultaneously absorbed important musical elements from their surroundings, demonstrating a multiplicity of cultural codes that coexist dynamically. This continual construction of their seemingly opposing roles as preservers and innovators of repertoire breaks all attempts at strict regionalism, while ensuring that certain traditional specificities remain untouched and unchanged.
The scholarship on these songbooks and their content has only been done on an individual basis, focusing on philology or ethnomusicological issues regarding contrafacta. This ground-breaking proposed study will analyze the individual songbooks as parts of a larger pan-Mediterranean corpus of Judeo-Spanish songbooks which negotiate identity transmission in an inclusive manner absorbing elements of the surrounding cultures while protecting the boundaries of the group. Through this study, I propose to elucidate transnational patterns of repertoire encoding, absorption and abandonment which can serve as a seminal theory for other mobile minority communities.


Net EU contribution
€ 196 707,84
65 rue des grands moulins
75214 Paris

See on map

Ile-de-France Ile-de-France Paris
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Other funding
€ 0,00