Arts & Culture

Abayudaya: Music From The Jewish People of Uganda

A few weeks ago my parents took a trip to Chicago and my father dragged my mother to check out the famed Spertus Museum, “Chicago’s Jewish Museum.” Somehow, they randomly chose 2 CDs to bring back for my brother and … Read More

By / October 8, 2009

A few weeks ago my parents took a trip to Chicago and my father dragged my mother to check out the famed Spertus Museum, “Chicago’s Jewish Museum.” Somehow, they randomly chose 2 CDs to bring back for my brother and me: a Leonard Cohen Greatest Hits of sorts as well as an album called Abayudaya: Music From the Jewish People of Uganda.

Abayudaya: The Music of the Jews of Uganda is an amazing collection of African-Jewish music where the rhythms and harmonies of Africa blend with Jewish celebration and traditional Hebrew prayer. This group of songs is rooted in local Ugandan music and infused with rich choral singing, Afro-pop, and traditional drumming. The record includes lullabies, political and children’s song, religious rituals, hymns, and celebratory music, with sons in Hebrew, English, and several Ugandan languages. This singular community of African people living committed Jewish lives has survived persecution and isolation and asserts, “We have been saved by our music.” This last line is an excerpt from the album booklet, which was put out by the good people at Smithsonian Folkways Recordings aka the other non-profit record label.

 

SHALOM

 

The Abayudaya are a community of approximately 600 people living in villages surrounding Mbale in Eastern Uganda and are full on practicing Jews. Many members scrupulously follow Jewish ritual, observe the Sabbath, celebrate holiday, keep kosher and and pray in Hebrew.

They have developed their own style of music, borrowing from many influences over the years: Malakite music adopted by the community’s founder, Semei Kakungulu; liturgical selections learned from their early contacts with occasional Jewish visitors and the expatriate congregations in Nairobi; music of worship and celebration composed by local Youth in the 1980’s; and traditional and contemporary music learned by recent contact with Jews from North America and Israel.

Little did my parents know what kind of a cross cultural masterpiece they had purchased here. But the minute I threw this disc on i knew i found something special, the blending of cultures, religions and spirituality is effervescent on this disc.

 

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