Exile

Geoffrey Oryema, 2012

Politics, particularly the politics of repression, are familiar as raw material for the singer-songwriter, but few have had the experiences that motivate Geoffrey Oryema.

At the age of 24, at the height of Idi Amin's power and following the death of his father, a prominent government minister, in a mysterious car accident, Oryema had to be smuggled across the border in the trunk of a car, thus beginning a life in exile. This exiled existence has been the theme of many of his songs.

Today, his songs keep alive the languages and folklore of his youth when he was surrounded by a close-knit family of singers, dancers and musicians. Geoffrey is accompanied by Peter Gabriel - a big fan - on backing vocals, Brian Eno on keyboards and vocals, Gabriel's guitarist David Rhodes, and David Bottrill on percussion.


Original Album Sleeve Notes

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 the Uganda's ruling class proved disastrous. Geoffrey was twenty-four in February 1977 when his father was secretly assassinated.

Exiled in France, Geoffrey perfected his lukeme (thumb piano), flute and nanga techniques.

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 the 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.'

The songs in which Geoffrey explores his feelings since leaving Uganda return continually to that lost country - the 'clear green land' in which all they invested of their lives and dreams are shattered.

Reviews

  • Exile is a wistful reflection on the Uganda of Geoffrey Oryema's youth... ... remembered through Swahili and Acholi folk songs ... Oryema's pain is pure sadness, with his voice and his primary instruments - the lukeme (a thumb piano) and the nanga (an eight stringed harp). Think Africa Press (UK)
  • Exile showcases the musical politics of a gentle man. The Beat (1991) (USA)