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About the Project

Why might it make sense for Moroccan musicians to include flamenco in their concerts? What do Sephardi songs have to do with Spain’s past? What are the musical parallels for the legacies of cultural exchange that characterise architectural wonders such as the Giralda in Seville and its ‘sister’, the Koutoubia in Marrakesh? Why might some Algerian musicians promote the intertwined cultural histories of al-Andalus and the Maghreb in Paris or Marseille?

These questions frame ‘Past and Present Musical Encounters across the Strait of Gibraltar’ (MESG), a five-year project funded by the European Research Council (758221_MESG). Combining archival research and fieldwork, the project brings together different geographical, linguistic and musical specialisms to explore the construction of a collective musical heritage between North Africa and Southern Europe. For centuries musicians have travelled across the Strait of Gibraltar, reflecting the close historical links between Southern Europe and North Africa. Music making across this region is partly underpinned by the legacies of medieval Spain (‘al-Andalus’, 711–1492) and the notion of cultural exchange between Christians, Jews and Muslims. The idea of a collective musical heritage between North Africa and Southern Europe has been used for a range of purposes: to legitimise European colonialism and the control and representation of North African peoples; as a form of cultural diplomacy and dialogue between different ethnic and religious communities in the Western Mediterranean; and as a form of transnational identity for North African communities in the diaspora.


The project is split into three interlocking areas of research that criss-cross colonial and postcolonial periods (from the 19th century to the present day) and that focus on a range of musics and sonic practices (Arab-Andalusian music, flamenco, Sephardi traditions, jazz and the soundscapes of protest):


  • The musical memory of al-Andalus: we examine the musical ‘afterlives’ of al-Andalus – how the utopian history of Muslim and Jewish Spain has been interpreted through music and sound by various communities for different social and political ends. Music plays an important role in bringing al-Andalus into the present but is also intricately tied up with the legacies of European colonialism in North Africa and projects of nationalism. 


  • Music and colonial history: we consider how music and sound constituted a form of colonial encounter in French and Spanish colonies in Algeria and Morocco, and in the metropoles. Focusing on micro-histories and hidden voices, we explore how music was used to legitimise and oppose colonial authority. Moreover, we seek to disrupt the binary of coloniser–colonised to explore transcolonial connections across different geographical contexts and between different ethnic and religious communities.


  • Postcolonial musical encounters: we explore intercultural music-making across the Mediterranean Sea in the postcolonial world, drawing on ethnographic research with different communities. We consider how colonial legacies continue to influence how music is performed and represented. From the discourse of a Spanish–Moroccan brotherhood, to European claims over the preservation of Arab-Andalusian music, colonial discourses and mentalities still influence how music is used by artists and cultural organisations in acts of cultural diplomacy and transnationalism across the Strait of Gibraltar.

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