Fri, 26 April 19
Released 10 September 1990
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, and he spent four hours in the trunk of a car until it crossed the border to safety in Kenya. 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.
The story of a man who complains at how short the first night is that he spends with his girlfriend.
‘O dawn, O dawn / You have betrayed me / You have let me down…’
Anaka – the place where my father was born is the very spot where he was laid to rest.
In this land of Anaka / They call us Payira * / In this land of Anaka / They call us Payira.
Obiga, ** lead me in this darkness / Show me the way / Take me to a place / Where I can see light.
In this land of Anaka / We had hope in Obiga / We had hope / We had dreams / Dreams of a clear green land.
In place of the family house / Dead Sand / Dead Sand.
Obiga is no more / We are left in disarray
* the clan of Anaka, ** pillar
Each time I think of you / My heart jumps into my throat… / And when I see you / My whole body shakes!
Lagila was a brave and notorious warrior, a once-feared figure who waged war, terrorizing neighbouring villages. One day, to everybody’s surpise, Lagila’s traditional war gear and ornaments were found on top of a hill, unattended and stained with blood.
Who killed Lagila? / Who killed Lagila? / Oyuru killed Lagila / Oyuru killed Lagila
The poor one walks on a lonely path / When you lose / They turn their backs on you / Call my name / And they will laugh…
My poverty is within / And without
This song relates the pain that people go through when left with no other choice but to leave their motherland
This is the story of a girl who is struck by ‘Jok’ (the evil spirit) while walking home from a neighbouring village. Her saviour comes in the form of a ‘good Samaritan’. This particular Samaritan is in possession of a powerful spirit which can chase away the Jok once it has entered the body. He narrates the story with a great deal of pride at saving the girl.
This is dedicated to my mother, widowed on 16 February 1977, in memory of her beloved husband Erenayo Wilson Oryema.
When we used to go to Anaka / Elephants would dance / We were young / We were young / Erenayo is no more / No more / Mother don’t weep… / The pillar lies cold
Lubanga, I called upon you / And each time I did / You blessed my tongue / I spoke a different language
In my sleep I saw her / And spoke to her / In my new language / Lubanga – are you real or unreal? / Are you untrue?
But when I came to / She was gone / Lubanga – are you a dream? / Am I a dreamer?
Exile is an open letter – a call for peace and an end to armed struggle which has proved so destructive in a land once called ‘The Pearl of Africa’. The poison of our society is known as ‘Apoka – Poka Me Kaka’ (tribalism).
Drop those guns / Please drop those guns / And if you really have the desire to fight / Pick up hoes / And fight with the soil.
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 (USA)
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