Geoffrey Oryema was born April 16, 1953 in Uganda. Every night, as a child in Kampala, Geoffrey Oryema would sit by his father’s side and listen to him playing the nanga, a seven-string harp. He was lucky enough to grow up absorbing both the folk music of his culture through traditional routes, and western techniques through his schooling. His father was a minister in Idi Amin’s government and the family’s position in Uganda’s ruling class proved disastrous.
In 1976 Geoffrey Oryema wrote a play titled “The Reign of Terror” that portrayed images of the atrocities Ugandans witnessed, during the Idi Amin Era. He formed and trained a semi-professional theatre troupe which he named Gong Gong.
Geoffrey was twenty-four in February 1977 when his father was secretly assassinated. Oryema escaped from Uganda to Kenya, where he presented his play at the French Cultural Centre Nairobi, in March. He left Nairobi, after this presentation, for his new home, Paris (France).
Exiled in France, Geoffrey perfected his lukeme (thumb piano), flute and nanga techniques. He also learned karate and earned a black belt.
In the fall of 1977, Oryema was hired as a musician and singer in a circus company owned by Jean Batiste Thierry and Victoria Chaplin, daughter of the renowned comedian and actor, Charlie Chaplin.
He later worked as a computer programmer but never forgot his passion for music. In 1990 he was signed by Real World Records. His first album titledExile came out that year, produced by Brian Eno.
Oryema was invited by Peter Gabriel to participate in the mega concert Nelson Mandela: An International Tribute for a Free South Africa at Wembley Stadium with an estimated audience of 78000, music fans.
The second album Beat The Border (1993), was also produced by Brian Eno.
During 1995, Oryema collaborated with other French artists, Manu Katche and Tonton David on the original soundtrack for the French film Un Indien Dans La Ville, with French film stars Thiery L’Hermitte, Patrick Timsitt, Miou Miou, Arielle Dombasle, and Jackie Beroyer.
Night To Night (RealWorld/Virgin Records), Oryema’s third album was released in 1996. It won the leading music award in France.
The 4th album, titledSpirit (Sony Music) came out in 2000. This was followed by Words (Next Music, 2004).
In 2009 Oryema recorded his sixth album, From the Heart at Real World, produced by Alex Swift.
Today his songs keep alive the languages of his youth – Swahili and ‘Acoli’ (pronounced ‘Acholi’) – and the folklore he learned when surrounded by storytellers, poets and singers at home.
‘Music accompanies everything in my culture. There is music for digging in your garden; to accompany the dead to their final resting place; if there is a visit by a head of state, it will be sung about. This music is not dead; it will never die. It is constantly changing, renewing itself. I even hear music when I am fixing a bug in a computer.’
Exile (Real World Records/Virgin Records, 1990)
Beat The Border (Real World Records/Virgin Records, 1993
Night To Night (Real World Records/Virgin Records, 1966)
Spirit (Sony Music, 2000)
Words (Next Music, 2004)
From The Heart (Long Tale Recordings, 2010)
Live 8 at Eden – Africa Calling (Real World/Rhino R2 9755, 2005)
Author: Angel Romero
Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music and progressive music for many years. He founded the websites worldmusiccentral.org and musicasdelmundo.com. Angel produced several specials for Metropolis (TVE) and co-produced “Musica NA”, a music show for Televisión Española (TVE) in Spain that featured an eclectic mix of world music, fusion, electronica, new age and contemporary classical music. Angel also produced and remastered world music and electronic music albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World, Lektronic Soundscapes, and Mindchild Records. Angel is currently based in Durham, North Carolina.