'Abayudaya ba Uganda' get Grammy nimination

By MusicUganda reporter 

If you thought we were going to wait for centuries for Ugandans to be nominated for the Grammy’s, you were wrong ‘cause ‘Abayudaya ba Uganda’ have received a nomination in the 47th Grammy Awards in the category of Traditional World Music.

The nominations have been made public by world press agencies and the ‘Abayudaya’ have also been listed on the official list of nominees on the Grammy Awards website.

The album ‘Abayudaya - Music From The Jewish People Of Uganda’ released by Smithsonian Folkways is a compilation by Jeffrey A. Summit. An accomplished musician in his own right, Summit does not perform on the album. Rather, he recorded, compiled and annotated the music of the Abayudaya people. As producer, he is the sole nominee for the album. Also in the same category is ‘Lady Smith Black Mambazo’ with ‘Raise your spirit higher’.

Summit describes the album as an “incredible blend of Jewish liturgy and African choral singing, Afro-pop and traditional drumming”

What is the history of the ‘Abayudaya ba Uganda’? They are a group numbering about 600 that have been practicing Judaism since 1919 when their traditional leader Semei Kakungulu, who was a renowned Muganda military leader was converted to the faith. Summit established initial contact with this group of people in Mbale, a remote part of eastern Uganda when he came out to do research on them. They were very excited when Summit broke the news about their nomination to them.

Kakungulu was an agent of the British colonial masters whose role was to expand British influence in the early 1900s in eastern Uganda. He however later fell out with his masters when he joined the Malachites who the British believed were a cult because they combined Christianity, Judaism and Christian Science and later rewrote the bible to make the Malachite bible.

In 1919, Kakungulu was fully converted to Judaism and had he and his sons circumcised. He moved to the foot of Mt. Elgon and declared his community a Jewish community. He had a dream of building a big Synagogue but he didn’t live to see this happen in his lifetime.

After his death, his Jewish community was divided into two as some of the followers retained the worship of Jesus whereas the others declared themselves Jews. The Jew’s community later reached out to Israel in the 1960s and 1970s and even had the first secretary of the Israeli embassy in Uganda visit them. This was what gave them contact with people such as Summit and their traditional recordings that he compiled have put them on the world map.