Sing For Joy: New Jewish Music from Uganda
Abayudaya Music of Worship
Music has long been a motivating force for religion in Africa. The rhythm of drums, used to call people to prayer and an integral part of religious worship, is the heart of African music. Since the inception of the Abayudaya Jewish community in 1919, singing accompanied by drums has been a major component of worship.
Music has been critical to the survival of the Abayudaya community. During dictator Iddi Amin Dada's ban on Judaism in the 1970s, many Abayudaya abandoned the community. After 1979, youth returning to Judaism demanded innovations in the worship service. In addition to the existing music, they resolved to create new melodies accompanied by guitar.
During the same period, the arrival of "born again" Christian pastors reinforced the musical part of religion in Africa. Preaching in public places accompanied by full bands of music, missionaries achieved tremendous success in attracting people to their faith.
Inspired by the success of local Christian missionaries, Abayudaya community leaders used instrumental music to attract people back to Judaism. Towards this purpose, some of the Christian melodies were "converted" and eventually adopted to Abayudaya liturgy. This strategy successfully compelled many youth to return to the almost extinct Abayudaya community. The community has borrowed and adapted to forge a new, distinctly Jewish music.
In order for the Jewish people to not only merely survive but to thrive, much can be learned from communities such as the Abayudaya about competing in the global marketplace of world religions. Jews have survived as a people not only by honoring thousands of years of heritage, but by innovation and change. And music, both traditional and new, is a powerful option.
2. Halleluyah/ Psalm 113
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