February 10, 2005
Ugandan Rabbinic Student Up for Grammy
University of Judaism rabbinic student Gershom Sizomu is deciding what he and his wife will wear to the Grammy Awards on Sunday, Feb. 13. "I'm confused," said Sizomu, 35. "Some people say I should put on Ugandan clothes; others say I should put on a tuxedo."
Red-carpet choices aside, Sizomu, the son and grandson of rabbis, is the first Ugandan Jewish musician up for a Grammy with his CD, "Abayudaya: Music From the Jewish People of Uganda." The CD is nominated for best traditional world music album.
The CD's 24 songs were performed by Sizomu and members of Uganda's tiny 600-member Jewish community, which Sizomu will lead after completing his University of Judaism (UJ) studies in three years. His UJ scholarship is being paid for by San Francisco's Institute for Jewish & Community Research and the Conservative synagogue, Shomrei Torah, in West Hills.
One song, "I Am a Soldier," is an African missionary staple often sung by children. For Sizomu's CD, the song's reference to Jesus was replaced.
"Instead of 'Jesus,' we say 'Adonai,'" he told The Journal. "It's the only word we changed."
The "Abayudaya" CD is being distributed by Smithsonian Folkways Recordings and was recorded by Rabbi Jeffrey Summit, Hillel director at Tufts University. The music is a mix of Jewish prayers sung in Hebrew and secular Ugandan tunes sung in a traditional African Bantu/Luganda dialect. The word, "Abayudaya," means "Jewish people" in Uganda's Luganda dialect.
Uganda's tiny Jewish community is 86 years old and has a history of being oppressed. Former Ugandan dictator Idi Amin drove the Jewish community underground after Israel's successful 1976 commando raid on the country's Entebbe Airport, rescuing 100 hostages from Palestinian-allied airline hijackers.
When Amin fled Uganda in April 1979, Sizomu said, "he left during Pesach, and the first Sabbath we had was the seder when he left."