By Samuel Opio
A renowned Afro-pop-rock France-based Ugandan music legend Geoffrey Oryema passes on at the age of 65.
The news of Oryema’s death was broken on Friday evening by another Ugandan artiste, Joel Sebunjo.
“Sad news for Ugandan Music .. African Music.. World Music.. The legend Geoffrey Oryema has passed on !! What a tragedy .. in September this year we had plans to record Lyon France; unfortunately, it didn’t come to pass. Condolences to his family, friends & fans all over the world. This man is a true Ugandan Legend. rest in peace Big tree,” Ssebunjo posted on his Facebook page.
The cause of Oryema’s death is not yet known. Oryema has been living in Paris, France. He is largely known for a highly successful song; Land of Anaka from his 1991 album.
Oryema earned his global reputation after the release of his second album, Beat the Border in 1993. He has performed on various big international music stages across the world.
Geoffrey Oryema, born 16 April 1953 in Soroti, In 1977 after the murder of his father, Erinayo Oryema who was a cabinet minister in the government of Amin he began his life in exile. At the age of 24, and at the height of Idi Amin’s power, Oryema was smuggled across the Ugandan border in the trunk of a car.
Oryema’s mother was a director of the national dance company called The Heartbeat of Africa.
Geoffrey’s family was immersed in Uganda’s traditional cultures and were storytellers, poets and musicians. As a teenager, Geoffrey wrote songs and learned how to play the guitar, flute and lukeme (a metal thumb-piano).
In the early 70s, Geoffrey’s ambition was to be an actor and he enrolled in Uganda’s Drama School of Academy. He founded an African drama company, Theatre Limited, the first Academy of Dramatic Arts and professional theatre troupe of its kind in East and Central Africa in the 70s.
Geoffrey studied drama and specialised in the methods of acting pioneered by Konstantin Stanislavsky and Grotosky’s avant-garde methods of acting. Mixing these techniques with traditional African theatre, the result was a very original ‘theatre of the absurd’, embellished by African tribal sounds and improvisation.
In the mid 70s, the fortunes of the Oryema family took a serious downturn. Oryema’s father, a minister in Idi Amin’s government, was killed in February 1977. Geoffrey and several members of his family decided to flee the country in fear of their own lives. With the help of friends, Geoffrey was smuggled across the border to Kenya in the trunk of a car. After a long and arduous journey, Geoffrey ended up in Paris where he settled and learned French.
Geoffrey found a receptive audience to his music and he developed a huge range of musical styles. He incorporated the traditional music of Uganda with the western music of the 80s.
In 1989, Geoffrey was spotted by a representative from WOMAD Festival looking for talent in Paris. This led to an introduction to Peter Gabriel and his Real World label, who arranged for Geoffrey to work with the eminent producer Brian Eno. Together they made the album Exile, which was based on Geoffrey’s experiences as a youth in Uganda. It brought critical acclaim and established Geoffrey’s reputation as a significant African singer-songwriter.