Grammy buzz

Tufts rabbi nominated for music’s top honor

Joining the pop and rock music glitterati awaiting the announcement of the 2005 Grammy Awards on February 13 will be a rabbi from Tufts.
grammy buzz

Rabbi Jeffrey Summit, director of Tufts Hillel and associate professor of music, has collected a nomination of his own for an album featuring the music of the Jews of Uganda. “Abayudaya: Music from the Jewish People of Uganda,” which Summit produced, was one of five albums nominated in the category of “Best Traditional World Music Album.”

Summit, who holds a master’s and Ph.D. in ethnomusicology from Tufts, traveled to Uganda to study and record the country’s small but vibrant population of Abayudaya, which means “Jewish people” in the Ugandan language of Buganda.

The album, released in November 2003 on Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, combines traditional Jewish prayers sung in Hebrew with Ugandan folk standards to create an aural portrait of the community of 600 Abayudaya. The CD was the lead album in National Public Radio’s “Director’s Cuts” recommendations for CDs in 2003.

Summit also has studied the musical traditions of Israel’s Yemenites in addition to conducting oral history projects with Tufts students. He is an accomplished musician who has released a CD, “Shepherd of the Highways,” and has performed Jewish and American music in the United States, England and Israel.

The Abayudaya date back to 1917, when Semei Kakungulu, a Bugandan leader who had resisted European colonists and missionaries, embraced Jewish practice as described in the Hebrew Bible. During the 1920s, a European Jewish trader taught Kakungulu and his community the theory and practice of Judaism.

“It’s amazing to be with these people,” Summit said. “On one hand, the prayers and the Hebrew feel so much a part of my regular cultural and religious experience. On the other hand, you’re sitting with this community in a clay and brick synagogue with Bantu people who are leading committed Jewish lives. I love the way that their story challenges our stereotypes about Jewish identity and expands our understanding of what it means to belong to a specific culture and tradition.”