Tufts Rabbi Is A Grammy Nominee
Musicprofessor and Hillel director Jeffrey Summit has received oneof the music industry’s highest honors for producing a collectionof the music of Uganda’s Jews. Medford/Somerville,Mass.
Medford/Somerville, Mass. [12.09.04] While the stars of pop and rock music basked in theannouncement of this year’s Grammy nominees on Dec. 7, RabbiJeffrey Summit,director of Tufts Hillel and associate professor of music, quietlycollected a nomination of his own, for an album featuring themusic of the Jews of Uganda.
"Musicis a wonderfully rich way to understand who people are,"Summit remarked to The Boston Globe earlier this year.
Abayudaya:Music From The Jewish People Of Uganda, produced by Summit,was one of five albums nominated in the category of “BestTraditional World Music Album.” Winners will be announcedFeb. 13.
Summit, whoholds both masters and Ph.D. degrees from Tufts in ethnomusicology,traveled to Uganda to study and record Uganda’s small butvibrant population of Abayudaya (which means “Jewish people”in the Ugandan language of Buganda).
Summit hasalso studied the musical traditions of Israel’s Yemenites,in addition to conducting oral history projects with Tufts studentsin both Medford and France. In addition to his scholarship, heis an accomplished musician who has released a CD, “Shepherdof the Highways,” and performed both Jewish and Americanmusic in the United States, England and Israel.
The Abayudayaalbum – released in December 2003 on Smithsonian FolkwaysRecordings – combines traditional Jewish prayers sung inHebrew with Ugandan folk standards, employing contemporary Africanmusical influences. The result is a comprehensive aural portraitof this community of 600.
"Thenature of the musical and liturgical traditions of this communityis this wonderful blend of local Ugandan musical traditions, localEast African traditions, and a developing Hebrew liturgy, a Jewishliturgy that really brings together a synthesis of [what] thiscommunity is," Summit told the Globe.
Accordingto the Globe, the community adopted Judaism just 80 years agoin a rebellion against British colonialism, closely followingtraditions prescribed in the Torah and turning to music as thecore of their worship. Amid the country’s chaotic politicsand the harsh regime of Idi Amin, their faith and song helpedsustain them.
“Whatthey do is they compose Jewish liturgy – they've basicallydrawn from their own traditions to make a liturgy that both feelsJewish and African to them,” Summit told National PublicRadio earlier this year.
Even as theybecome more aware of the world – including the Jewish world– outside their country, Uganda’s Jews feel a strongobligation to uphold their blend of African and Jewish traditions.
“Oneof the leaders of the community said to me, 'We have to keep withour own traditional music because if we didn't keep with our traditionalmusic, there would be no need for you to come,' they said to me,'to visit the Abayudaya,” Summit recalled to NPR.
Summit firstvisited the Abayudaya more than four years ago, where he collaboratedon a photo essay book which also included a disc of the group’smusic. Two years later, in January 2002, Summit returned witha sound engineer to produce a more comprehensive recording. Theend product combines smooth production with the intimate presenceof ambient noises such as crickets and goats.
"Theysing together all the time," Summit told the Globe."Making music together is not a professional activity."
But this time,it has reaped Summit and his Ugandan friends a professional accolade.