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Dr. Vanessa Paloma Duncan-Elbaz 

Research Associate

University of Cambridge


Dr. Vanessa Paloma Elbaz is a Research Associate at the Faculty of Music of the University of Cambridge and of Peterhouse, Cambridge. Vanessa has held various research fellowships such as a Senior Fulbright Research Scholar to Morocco (2007–2008), Research Associate of the Hadassah Brandeis Institute of Brandeis University (2009–2016) and Research Fellow of the Tangier American Legation Institute for Moroccan Studies (2015–2018). In 2012, she founded KHOYA: Jewish Morocco Sound Archive to collect, digitize, classify, and analyze contemporary and historical sound recording of Moroccan Jews. Her publications focus on narratives of power and transmission as well as the negotiation of minority status and gender relations through music in Morocco. Her Ph.D. from the Sorbonne’s Center for Middle Eastern and Mediterranean Studies at INALCO on ‘Jewish Women’s Songs from Northern Morocco: Core Role and Function of a Forgotten Repertoire’ received ‘félicitations du jury’. Vanessa’s work has been supported by the American Institute for Maghrib Studies, the Maurice Amado Foundation, Steven Spielberg’s Righteous Persons Foundation, the Posen Foundation and the California Council for the Humanities amongst others. An alumna of the Early Music Institute at Indiana University’s School of Music (MM), and OBU (BM magna cum laude), Vanessa is an active musician, having performed in numerous festivals around the world and has frequently appeared in documentaries, radio and television, including PBS, France24 and Al Jazeera International.  


Vanessa’s research focuses on the simultaneous use and silencing of Jewish voices within narratives of diversity and identity construction in Morocco and Spain during the last century. Informed by the racial stratification that was institutionalized in Spain and its diaspora after the expulsion of both Jews and Muslims centuries earlier, one of music’s central functions has been encoding cultural diversity and intimately familiar difference within national identities in this region. She also explores how official Moroccan, French and Spanish institutions have narrated or ignored the voice of the Jewish minority through a century-long span of research and cultural diplomacy. Drawing on archival work, oral histories and discourse analysis, her research focuses on the role that Jewish music and musicians have played in colonial and post-colonial cultural interactions and how that has transformed into the current heritagization of Jewish sounds. The high mobility of Moroccan Jews in the last century, as well as their simultaneous multiple linguistic and cultural affiliations, has created an environment that blurs official tropes of belonging and non-belonging and that is often represented through music. Pan-Arabism, Moroccan nationalism, the establishment of the State of Israel and more recently, efforts to stem Islamic radicalization of Morocco’s youth have had a direct impact on the popularization (or silencing) of Jewish repertoires as a sonic entity. Vanessa’s work theorizes how the establishment of publicly accepted Jewish heritage repertoires in the trans-Gibraltar region during the last century follows a pattern supported by philo-Sephardi intellectual discourse which began before Spanish colonialism in Morocco.   

While looking not only at official representations of minority voices, but also at the impact of performances of ‘Jewish’ repertoires by both Jewish and non-Jewish performers and cultural activists, Vanessa’s research unearths the slow and complex story of how national identities are built through music and the entanglement between recreation and reinvention of memory. Her monograph is tentatively entitled: Needing Jewish Sounds: Why Morocco and Spain still Perform the Songs of their Absent Minority

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