A look back on Geoffrey Oryema’s 1993 video for ‘The River’

To celebrate the 25th anniversary of Geoffrey Oryema's second album for Real World, 1993's Beat The Border, we have made the official music video for the album's lead single 'The River' available digitally for the first time.

The single, which features a remix by Brian Eno, is also now available to stream on Spotify, and other digital platforms.

The follow-up to his 1990 international breakthrough Exile, Geoffrey enlisted producers Bob Ezrin and David Bottrill, along with guitarist/composer Jean-Pierre Alarcen, to bring an electric soul to Beat The Border: a cultural collaboration of western pop/rock and African traditional melodies. The album was included in Q Magazine’s Top 50 albums of 1993, and Billboard described it as ‘a harmonious marriage between traditional and Western influences.’

Following the release of Beat The Border, Geoffrey joined the 1994 WOMAD USA Tour, and appeared on stage with Peter Gabriel at Woodstock ’94. He also performed ‘The River’ as a duet with Peter live on The Today Show on NBC.

"Where many of his contemporaries struggle to reconcile African and western influences, Oryema hits the button with evident ease. World music for all." ★★★★ Q Magazine, 1993
The official video for 'The River', directed by Michael Coulson

About the Video

Directed by Michael Coulson
Produced by Jacqueline White
Photography by John Walker
Underwater Photography by Jeff Goodman
Edited by Tim Bolt
Special Effects Designer Michael Shirra
Assistant Director Nigel Milk
Camera Assistant Claire Allistone
Lighting Geoff Holloway
Props/Model Maker Carolyn Findlay
Stills Photography Stephen Lovell-Davis
Production Runner Adrian Chivers

Geoffrey on set with video director Michael Coulson. Photo credit: Darryl Johnson.
Draft storyboard for 'The River', drawn by Nichola Bruce.

More about Geoffrey Oryema

Geoffrey Oryema was born in Soroti, in eastern Uganda, the son of a prominent and influential artistic family from Anaka in the north of Uganda. His childhood was spent happily as part of a large extended family of musicians, poets and story-tellers. His father was an accomplished player of the nanga, an adapted Egyptian 15thCentury 7-stringed harp. Mr Oryema’s day job was with the Ugandan government of Idi Amin, as the respected minister of land and water resources. Geoffrey’s mother was the director of the Ugandan national dance company “Heartbeat of Africa”. As a child, Geoffrey followed his mother on tour with the company, learning the tribal dance traditions and absorbing the sounds of Uganda.

Geoffrey flourished in this environment, picking up the guitar and flute at school, as well as the nanga, and lukeme (the traditional metal thumb piano) at home. He began to write his own songs, and from school went on to study theatre at the Dramam School Academy. There Geoffrey studied the theatrical methods of Stanislavski and Grotowski. He went on to found the “Theatre Ltd.” troupe in 1976, for whom he wrote stage pieces, mixing the avant-garde with African traditions. Out of this cultural collaboration was born a theatre of the absurd, mixing method acting with African tribal sounds and improvisations. It was an expression of Geoffrey Oryema’s desire to reconcile the cultures of his birthplace with those of the west; this mixing of cultural expression has become the abiding theme in all of his work.

More and more, Geoffrey came to see his life and his work at the academy, where he now taught, as a weapon. His creativity and his body became dual weapons in the struggle against the tyranny of Idi Amin. In 1977, under suspicious circumstances, his father was killed in a car crash. Geoffrey left Uganda, leaving his family home and fleeing to Kenya. His three brothers and seven sisters left too, all of them settling eventually in Europe. Geoffrey stayed for a while in Nairobi and then moved on to Paris. His mother was now the sole family member left in Kampala. It is a time about which he preferred  not to speak, but the assassination of his father left a scar that prevented Geoffrey from returning to Uganda for many years. In his own words, he did not “wish to become a refugee, ever again.”

Photo credit: Darryl Johnson.

In 1990, Geoffrey brought his music to the world stage when he played for the Nelson Mandela Tribute at Wembley. He and Peter Gabriel met and the collision of musical ideas resulted in the recording of Geoffrey’s first album Exile at Real World Studios.

Geoffrey died earlier this year, following a long battle with cancer. He and his music have played a significant part in the history of the label.

Visit Geoffrey’s artist page to discover more about his life and his music.

Featured release:

  • Beat The Border

    Geoffrey Oryema

    Released 26 September 1993

    On this album, the powerful roots of Oryema's African heritage have a more subtle influence on the music. The songs are now more universal, expressed in English, his second language, and influenced by guitarist Jean-Pierre Alarcen's pop-rock roots.

By Online Editor

Main image: Geoffrey Oryema filming the video for 'The River'. Photo credit: Darryl Johnson

Adapted from a feature by Martha Ladly for The Box Magazine in 1993.

Published on Mon, 22 October 18

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