This week, we confront the diversity of music in Israel by learning about the traditional song of the women from the Jewish community of Kerala (South India), and how this unique repertoire (sung in Jewish-Malayalam) has been reconstructed in Israel, on the basis of manuscript sources and ethnographic field work.


Our guest lecturer is Barbara C. Johnson, Emerita Professor of Anthropology at Ithaca College. Upon completing her B.A. in history at Oberlin College, Barbara Johnson lived and taught in South India for four years during the 1960s, before beginning academic research on the Kerala Jews leading to her M.A. in religion (Smith College) and anthropology (University of Massachusetts). Since 1972 she has made six trips back to India and twenty to Israel (including two years of residence) for ethnographic fieldwork with their community in both places. Johnson’s publications include Oh Lovely Parrot!: Jewish Women’s Songs from Kerala (Book & CD: Jewish Music Research Center, Jerusalem, 2004); Ruby of Cochin: An Indian Jewish Woman Remembers (co-authored with Ruby Daniel: Jewish Publication Society, 1995); and many scholarly articles. She is currently a Visiting Scholar in the South Asia Program at Cornell University. She recently served as visiting scholar, assisting in the preparation of the exhibition, Global India: Kerala, Israel, Berkeley, which I (Francesco Spagnolo) curated, on view at The Magnes, UC Berkeley, in the Fall of 2013.

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