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April 6, 2004

Boston Globe

J.J. Keki sings out the opening phrase of Psalm 136 in a hypnotic voice that sounds as if it's rising from the mountains of his remote village. His original version of the passage, recalling the deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt, is sung in Luganda, the national language of Uganda. A choral response echoes Keki's pattern in a higher register, fuller but with the same clarity, unimpeded by accompaniment. Together they form a melodic conversation. The songs that follow, some of which are in Hebrew and honor the Sabbath, are similarly steeped in contemporary African influences. The music is at once foreign, familiar, and incomparable. This is the sound of the Abayudaya, a community of about 600 people in eastern Uganda who are practicing Jews.

"The nature of the musical and liturgical traditions of this community is this wonderful blend of local Ugandan musical traditions, local East African traditions, and a developing Hebrew liturgy, a Jewish liturgy that really brings together a synthesis of [what] this community is," said Summit, who's also executive director of the Hillel Foundation on the Tufts Medford campus.Today, members of the Abayudaya continue to compose and sing music as part of their daily lives -- in the fields where they grow plantains and sweet potatoes, in their homes, and in their mud-brick synagogues, which are decorated with hand-painted chalk drawings of menorahs and Stars of David. More

Posted by acapnews at April 6, 2004 8:28 AM


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