Skip to main content

The Lost Paradise

Andalusi Music in Urban North Africa

For more than a century, urban North Africans have sought to protect and revive Andalusi music, a prestigious Arabic-language performance tradition said to originate in the “lost paradise” of medieval Islamic Spain. Yet despite the Andalusi repertoire’s enshrinement as the national classical music of postcolonial North Africa, its devotees continue to describe it as being in danger of disappearance. In The Lost Paradise, Jonathan Glasser explores the close connection between the paradox of patrimony and the questions of embodiment, genealogy, secrecy, and social class that have long been central to Andalusi musical practice.
Through a historical and ethnographic account of the Andalusi music of Algiers, Tlemcen, and their Algerian and Moroccan borderlands since the end of the nineteenth century, Glasser shows how anxiety about Andalusi music’s disappearance has emerged from within the practice itself and come to be central to its ethos. The result is a sophisticated examination of musical survival and transformation that is also a meditation on temporality, labor, colonialism and nationalism, and the relationship of the living to the dead.

352 pages | 9 halftones, 1 line drawing | 6 x 9 | © 2016

Chicago Studies in Ethnomusicology

African Studies

Anthropology: Cultural and Social Anthropology

History: African History

Middle Eastern Studies

Music: Ethnomusicology


"Jonathan Glasser’s book, simultaneously erudite and accessible, brings a significant and welcome contribution to this growing field of research. J. Glasser describes a collection of historical and cultural references from the Algerian Andalusian musical tradition and, with great talent, shows that it is pervaded by themes of loss, revival, and preservation, and which in turn have contributed to the development of Algerian classical music."


"Through sophisticated ethnography and painstaking multilingual archival research, Glasser shapes a compelling narrative about a notion of the lost. . . . In this book the lost becomes a complex notion which comes alive through an incisive analysis and the skilful interweaving of practitioners’ and melomanes’ (aficionados’) words, sound recordings, printed compilations of song texts, photographs, transcriptions, and amateur associations. This is how Glasser invites his readers into an archipelago of sound, where debates and anxieties about loss and revival are embedded in the intertwining of the past, the present, and the future, giving continuity and vitality to Andalusi music. The Lost Paradise is an essential reference for researchers of the musical traditions of North Africa and the Middle East, and a crucial work for scholars of North Africa and beyond."

Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

"Based on more than a decade of research, The Lost Paradise offers a meticulous and accomplished portrayal of the Andalusian music milieu in Algiers, Tlemcen and their Moroccan borderlands and a cultural history of a century-long project of musical revival. Glasser’s work provides a tremendously rich and deeply learned ethnography of the microhistories of one particular Andalusian musical tradition."

Ethnomusicology Forum

"Jonathan Glasser’s The Lost Paradise: Andalusi Music in Urban North Africa is a landmark study of the history and contemporary practice of musicians and music lovers in the Moroccan-Algerian border area. In addition to shedding light on a little understood component of the broader network (what Glasser terms an archipelago) of Andalusi associations and performance practices, this important book explores the relationship of cultural heritage to place, narratives of origin and decline, the ways music can enliven debates about the dynamics of communal memory and belonging, and the anxieties of modernity. . . . Glasser strikes such a fine balance between his archival and field research that he creates the feeling of conversing with characters long gone (the early 20th century musician Edmond Yafil, for example) while at the same time understanding contemporary performers as embedded in a centuries- long genealogy of performance, communal memory, storytelling and

Journal of Arabic Literature

“A much-needed study of the North African Andalusi musical tradition that compellingly shows how the familiar tropes of cultural loss and revival have been constituted and experienced through the lens of its musicians and social actors. It will be a crucial resource for scholars of North African and Middle Eastern artistic traditions and should become the essential reference work on Andalusi music in English-language scholarship.”

Jane Goodman, Indiana University

“Like the music that is its subject, Glasser’s book is beautiful, subtle, and deeply learned—carefully composed, deftly handled, and sensitive. A compelling account of Andalusi music and its milieu both as they exist today and as they have developed since the nineteenth century, this is a theoretically articulate and highly sophisticated ethnography and an absorbing and engaging read, lucidly and elegantly written, with passages of real beauty. This is an insightful cultural history that offers a major contribution to the literature.”

James McDougall, University of Oxford

Table of Contents

List of Figures
Note on Transliteration

Part I   The People of al-Andalus
Prologue: An istikhbār
1          An Andalusi Archipelago
2          The Shaykh and the Mūlū‘
3          Andalusi Music as Genre

Part II  Revival
Prologue: A Photograph
4          Ambiguous Revivals
5          Texts, Authority, and Possession
6          The Associative Movement
7          The Politics of Patrimony
Conclusion: The Lost


American Institute for Maghrib Studies: L. Carl Brown AIMS Book Prize in North African Studies

Be the first to know

Get the latest updates on new releases, special offers, and media highlights when you subscribe to our email lists!

Sign up here for updates about the Press