The Ultimate in Passover Music
Consider this, the ultimate in Passover music: A nine-year-old Jewish African girl, croons in her native language of Luganda, "Sing with Jerusalem, rejoice with Jerusalem^I will sing my song for Jerusalem, Come my friend, we go to Jerusalem."
Then, in the tradition of the Abayudaya Jews of Uganda of which she is a part, she and a choir switch to Hebrew with many repetitions of "L'shana haba b'Yerushalayim," while her father weaves in an infectious counter-melody in Luganda.
Rachel Namudosi, child soloist and darling of the recently released recording "Shalom Everybody Everywhere!" once impressed the vice president of Uganda so much, he lent her village a bicycle.
Proceeds from the recording will benefit the Abayudaya, who have been practicing Judaism in eastern Uganda since 1919 and who live on subsistence agriculture without electricity or running water. A good portion of these proceeds will pay for school scholarships for Abayudaya youth such as Rachel.
The recording features the Kohavim Tikvah Choir singing -- in English, Hebrew, Luganda and Swahili -- traditional Jewish liturgy set to African melodies and rhythms, as well as new compositions created by the Abayudaya for religious services and daily Jewish life.
The 17 songs on the tape include Abayudaya versions of "Sh'ma Yisrael," "Hinei Ma Tov," "L'cha Dodi," the Shehecheyanu, and "Adon Olam," as well as the traditional version of "Hatikvah."
There are original English-language compositions of "Torah Torah" and "Thirteen Principles of Faith," both interpreted by Rachel. The stirring words of "Torah Torah" include "I love the Torah... she gives me food, she gives me life. Torah, the tree of life, is full of peace...She is my mother, she is my happiness...." "The Thirteen Principles of Faith" is an African treatment of Maimonides' formulation.
Another original composition in English is "We Shan't Give Up," the Abayudaya motto song. Its emotional words move every visitor to the small but vibrant community: "However few we shall be...We have the hope to prosper...Every day, every night, we shall never give up...Come on, come on, join the struggle...."
Also included are mesmerizing songs in Swahili -- "Tunafuraha Sana" ("We Are Very Happy") and "Fanya Kazi Nangufu" ("Work Hard with All Your Might"), sung while the Abayudaya youth worked on their kibbutz to make bricks for the synagogue -- and in Luganda -- "Mukama Alinyamba" ("My Lord Will Help Me") and "Mukwano Gwange" ("My Beloved"). The words of "Mukwano Gwange" are especially beautiful: "I have one beloved, God is my beloved...You, the sick, don't worry, for the Lord is your Doctor...You who are in peril, do not worry for the Lord is everything you need. Let me boast of my Lover..."
The title song closes the recording with a tuneful "Shalom" from their isolated mountain top to Americans, Ugandans, Arabs, Christians, Jews...to "everybody everywhere."
The genesis of the recording occurred a few years ago, when Matt Meyer was a Brown University student in Africa. After attending Shabbat services with the Abayudaya, he recalls: "The service itself was magical. When I heard their L'cha Dodi, I was quite moved. It was simply one of the most beautiful tunes I had ever heard in a synagogue. I wanted every Hebrew school teacher and fellow Jew throughout the world to hear the Abayudaya version of L'cha Dodi. It was the magical mix of being Ugandan and Jewish simultaneously that so few Jews in the world have seen."
When Rabbi J. Hershy Worch, a hasid who has released a cassette of his own musical renditions of prayers, heard Matt's copy of Abayudaya Jewish music, he played it continuously for a week and then made plans to go to Uganda. He made his second trip last summer.
When Rabbi Ethan Seidel, a pulpit rabbi with a degree from the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, heard the tape, he described it as "Jewish music in a refreshing flavor unlike any other in the world," and tried out one of the melodies with his students and congregants at Tifereth Israel Congregation in Washington, DC.
Cantor David Shneyer is founder of the Jewish Folk Arts Society, founder and director of Am Kolel Judaic Resource Center, a founder of the popular Fabrangen Fiddlers klezmer band, and a singer-composer with numerous recordings. When he heard the Abayudaya sound, he said, "What I love about this music is the joyfulness that comes through. Several of the tunes should be integrated into the repertoire of cantors, Jewish singers, and choral groups across the U.S."
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