About the Project

What role does music play in debates about colonial history and immigration? How might music overcome or reinforce cultural difference at a time of rising nationalism across Europe? These questions underpin intercultural music-making across the Strait of Gibraltar – the sea that separates Spain and Morocco.

Past and Present Musical Encounters across the Strait of Gibraltar (MESG) is a five-year research project (2018–23) funded by a European Research Council Starting Grant. It will examine the importance of music for the construction of a collective cultural memory between North Africa and Southern Europe, both in the colonial past and the postcolonial present. Combining archival research and ethnographic fieldwork, the project will bring together different geographical, linguistic and musical specialisms, leading towards an integrated understanding of musical exchange in the region.


For centuries musicians have travelled across the Strait of Gibraltar, reflecting the close historical links between Southern Europe and North Africa. In particular, music making across this region is underpinned by the legacies of medieval Spain (al-Andalus, 711–1492) and the notion of cultural exchange between Christians, Jews and Muslims. While historical research has cast doubt on the realities of interethnic exchange in al-Andalus, there has been less consideration of how a utopian reading of this past has influenced contemporary intercultural music making. The notion of a shared musical heritage between North Africa and Southern Europe has been used for a range of purposes: to legitimise European (and especially Spanish) colonialism in North Africa; as a form of cultural diplomacy between North Africa and Southern Europe; and as a model for the integration of North African immigrants in Europe. Focusing on a range of genres (Arab-Andalusian music, western classical music flamenco, Sephardi traditions and popular music), the MESG project will examine the social and political uses to which music has been employed, framed by colonial history and postcolonial relations across the Strait of Gibraltar. The research is split into two main areas:   


  • A comparative study of music and European colonialism in Algeria and Morocco in the first half of the twentieth century. The project examines European influence on the development of North African traditions and the legacy of a collective musical heritage, as well as music’s role in nationalist independence movements.


  • A study of musical encounters across the Strait of Gibraltar in the postcolonial context. The project explores how colonial narratives and networks continue to influence music making. It considers how music is used as a form of cultural diplomacy between North Africa and Europe, as well as an alleged model for the integration of North African immigrants in Europe. 

© 2019 by Veronika Lorenser