Geoffrey Oryema, The Legacy, The True heritage of Uganda.
By Caesar Lubangakene
What were you doing 40 years ago?
May be you were still in school, may be at Makerere University or somewhere in the village.
I was not yet born; I’m very sure many reading this were still not yet born.
My 60-year-old mother says she was just a shy student in Kabale. 40 years ago feels like a life time ago, yes, indeed it’s like a generation ago.
The 1970’s in Uganda is known as the ‘‘dark days’’- the most barbaric and fascist president Idi Amin ruthlessly terrorized Ugandans and ruled the country under martial law.
Any one perceived to be a political threat was thrown in jail or disappeared. Many families fled the country into exile to escape the atrocities of the dictatorship.
Geoffrey Oryema was one of the many Ugandans who fled the country to Kenya after Amin murdered his father – Mr Erinayo Oryema, Uganda’s first African Inspector General of Police( At the time of the assassination, Oryema was the Minister of Lands and Housing).
The wanton murder of Erinayo Oryema, Interior minister Oboth-Ofumbi and Uganda’s Arch Bishop Janan Luwum would send shock waves across the global Christian world, highlighting the atrocities and impunity of Amin, and would mark a sustained pace in the struggle for the liberation of Uganda.
Oryema was only 24 years and like other Ugandans learned of the devastating news of his father’s death through public radio and escaped to exile in Kenya.
His music loving father is said to have been one of the greatest nanga players in the whole of Acholi and affectionately introduced the junior Oryema to other traditional musical instruments like the Lukeme (thumb piano) and Adungu.
Coupled with his training at the National Theater as a professional music performer, the young Oryema now with no family and friends would find his way to Paris France where he was granted asylum and resides to date.
New to the big city, he started off with odd jobs to survive and would pick up his new love, a guitar and play music in his free time in the new lonely land; this new musical journey would span decades around the world.
The Home coming: They say there is no place like home and that a man can see the whole world and live in many places out well, but always comes back to the place they call home.
For Geoffrey Oryema travelling from France 9,000 km back to Uganda where he has always dreamed of the green savanna and the family home in Anaka(Nwoya district) must be the definition of home coming.
Oryema says his musical journey has always been about discovering himself and the world he has wandered and lived in.
In 1996, Oryema speaking to the writer Opiyo Oloya, stated: – “You need to go further beyond expectation. My idea of being an artist is first and foremost to explore the world between roots and modern music. It is a search for an identity, a musical identity.”
Oryema returned to Uganda on Thursday last week after four decades abroad and spoke to Northern News Wire at Entebbe Airport and stating: “I am so glad to be back in the Pearl of Africa and this is a new beginning for me, I am shedding tears of joy.”
Now, our local music stars in Uganda tend to be ephemeral because we live in the age of the ‘cultural revolution’ and many folks in the music game are striving to keep pace with this ‘new’ era. Hence bubble gum songs are common yet good music, authentic Ugandan music is becoming rare and many musicians are missing the point of making real ‘music.’
Afrigo Band the longest lasting musical group in the history of Uganda has persisted for the last 41 years and is arguably Uganda’s biggest music asset because of appreciating the roots.
While contemporary mainstream artists like Jose Chameleon are well known today in the music arena, the legend Geoffrey Oryema cuts in-between the two as Uganda’s most recognized and successful Musician internally.
He has achieved much that another great Ugandan musician like Joel Sebunjo or the unique British born Ugandan singer Micheal Kiwanuka will achieve in this generation.
For instance, one popular artist Bebe Cool when talking about his big achievements has always thrown the line “I performed at Mandela’s birthday in South Africa.”
That was a great honor for Bebe, and indeed much respect to ‘‘Big Size’’ for the achievement.
And this is why I say Oryema is in another league from another generation; Nelson Mandela called out Geoffrey Oryema in 1994 long before Bebe had recorded a track in his career.
He first performed at the WOMAD festival in 1989 at Wembley Stadium in an Apatheid protest concert, and again at Mandela’s release year birthday celebration with Grammy winning legend Peter Gabriel who signed him up to his record label Real World and featured on his first album- Exile.
In the 1980s they composed and performed ‘Biko’ in solidarity with the Apartheid struggle, and Mandela once recognized and honored them.
Also, long before Pastor George Okudi had known that there was a certain Kora award- and congrats to Okudi for bringing Uganda those two historic awards in 2003; Geoffrey Oryema was the first Ugandan musician ever to be nominated for the Kora award in 1996 for best male category.
Best known for the song, Land of Anaka, Oryema has come of age during Uganda’s roughest years and grew up in different worlds embracing the true meaning of freedom, liberty and human rights.
He has over the years blended social issues into his music yet used traditional African folk songs as the platforms for both protest and entertainment.
He has celebrated the Acholi culture, advocated for women rights, children’s rights and was very vocal about the two decade LRA conflict that at one point set him on colliding paths with the current regime in Uganda.
Although revered as one of the Uganda’s greatest musicians, he is rarely acknowledged, let alone honored, in his homeland.
His songs were on the regular hit selection on Radio Uganda but most especially with the advent of Gulu’s first FM radio station Radio Freedom 88.8 MHz in 1999; and then Mega FM in 2002, he had most of the first recorded traditional Luo radio hits on radio before the Lucky Bosmic Otim, Leo Pa Layeng and 2Pees of this world.
Most of Oryema’s songs have depicted the plight of child soldiers (yeyeye), workers like teachers (lapwony), soldiers (solitude) and policemen (See me Lakayana, spirit of my father), advocated for better standards of living (Umoja), peace (Makambo) etc…
He has recorded with the global music brand Sony International and performed at the LIVE 8: Africa Calling concert in Cornwall, and with 1 Giant Leap at the Live 8 Edinburgh concert in July 2005 alongside the Bonos of this world.
He sings in Luo, Zulu, Swahili, Luganda, English and French.
The legend Georffrey Oreyma performed at Lohana Academy in Kampala courtesy or Bayimba music festival in December 2016, his first time in the country since 1977.