Abayudaya, Eastern Uganda
The Abayudaya, literally People of Judah in Luganda, have never claimed any connection to the lost tribes of Israel. They adopted Judaism almost 100 years ago, when their founder Semei Kakungulu, a prominent landlord of Eastern Uganda, similarly to patriarch Abraham, circumcised himself and his household and began following the rules of the five books of Moses. The Abayudaya community went through severe persecutions during the regime of Idi Amin, who outlawed Judaism and destroyed many synagogues. Only 300 Jews remained in the community out of 3000 before Idi Amin. Today there are about 1500 people in the Abayudaya community, mostly in the picturesque villages on the hills of Eastern Uganda near Elgon Mount. The Abayudaya is definitely one of the strongest African Jewish communities, with six synagogues open for services, a yeshiva, Jewish elementary, secondary and high schools, a Jewish hospital, and the only rabbi in Sub-Saharan Africa. Music is an important and unique feature of religious services of the Abayudaya. The beats of buganda drums, melodious Luganda language and polyphonic African singing style turn every service into real celebration of joy. The album of the Abayudaya music “Abayudaya: Music from the Jewish people of Uganda” produced by Jeffrey Summit was nominated for the Best Traditional World Music album at the 47th Grammy Awards. Though the community carefully preserves the traditional music of the elders, most of today’s music of the Abayudaya has been composed by Joab Jonadab Keki (aka J.J. Keki), not only a talented singer and composer, but also a successful coffee farmer, businessman, and the father of 25 children, biological as well as adopted. The community has also been blessed with a great number of young talented artists. Every year the Abayudaya hold the Music and Dance Festival, where young musicians and dancers from different Jewish synagogues and villages show their skills. Rachman Nagwere, a young singer and music-maker, is leading the way of the new generation of the Abayudaya.