On Vanessa Paloma

A Jewish Moroccan Sound Archive

In my previous post I wrote about a group of Moroccan Muslim students, “Mimouna”, who are dedicated to preserving the knowledge of Jewish contributions to Moroccan society in a country which is inexorably losing its Jewish population. In a conference room at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Casablanca our group heard a talk from Vanessa Paloma, a singer, ethnographer and activist, who is trying to preserve the cultural history of the Jews of Morocco for future generations of Moroccans. Ms. Paloma has developed “Khoya: A Jewish Moroccan Sound Archive”. Much like Mimouna, she seeks to counter misinformation about Jews in Morocco and to support multicultural understanding through making Moroccans aware of the important place that Jews have played in Moroccan society.

The project consists of two parts. The first is collecting commercial and field recordings from the sacred and secular music of the Moroccan Jews. (Although she says there is no break between the secular and the sacred in Morocco. Everything is experienced as “the will of G-d”) The second is to collect oral histories of Moroccan Jews in order to preserve a record of Jewish life in Morocco, past and present.

Vanessa Paloma and me. I sang
her a few bars of a Ladino song
I knew. She was unimpressed.
You will be impressed by her,
however, if you click on this
link to El Paipero, a classic
Heketia song of the Jewish
Moroccan repertoire. 

Ms. Paloma was born into a family of archeologists in South America. She grew up in the United States and became interested in performing. Her Spanish-language background eventually led her to an interest in Sephardic music. From there she became interested in the language and music of Moroccan Jews, Haketia, a Judeo-Spanish language