24 April 2006

Monday's mp3: African Jews

One of the delights of global music exploration is the discovery of unexpected cultural juxtapositions and previously unknown pockets of culture. Brazilian rhythms in Scotland (Mac Umba) or soul-funk in Ethiopia (the Ethiopiques series), for example. You've probably got your own favorites.

Well, a recent conversation reminded me of the eye-opening 2003 album Abayudaya: Music from the Jewish People of Uganda. The rich liner notes give a great background to the 600-strong community of people near Mbale in eastern Uganda who are practicing Jews, keeping kosher, celebrating Jewish holidays, praying in Hebrew. The community was founded by Semei Kakugulu, whose literal reading of the Bible eventually led him, and his followers, to Judaism. Indeed, "Abayudaya" means "the Jewish people" in Luganda.

"Hinei Ma Tov" takes its text from Psalm 133, and translates as "Behold How Good (It Is for Brothers to Dwell Together)" -- the melody is a group composition from the Young Jewish Club in the early 1980s. "It's a song sung [in Luganda and Hebrew] on happy occasions, such as the dedication of a house, circumcisions, and after the birth of a child, festival services, and meals."

The second selection is also obviously from the scriptures, and is sung in Luganda by Gershom Sizomu, JJ Keki, Aaron Kintu Moses, and their mother Devorah.

[mp3] "Hinei Ma Tov"
[mp3] "Deuteronomy 32:39-43, Song Eight"

To find out more about the Abayudaya, check out the book Abayudaya: The Jews of Uganda by Richard Sobol (which includes a CD of music recorded by Jeffrey A. Summit, who also recorded the Smithsonian Folkways album from which the above tracks are taken) or visit the website Jews of Uganda.

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