Geoffrey Oryema

Geoffrey Oryema Biography

Born in Soroti, a town in the east of Buganda (the future Uganda) on April 16. 1953, Geoffrey Oryema is descended from the kingdom's Acholi aristocracy. This traditional ethnic nobility, whom British colonialists regarded as a "warrior race", took charge of Uganda's national army after the country won its independence in 1962.

A privileged childhood

Geoffrey was still in early childhood when his family left Soroti and moved to the Ugandan capital, Kampala. His parents, members of the country's new intellectual elite, were eager to transmit the country's traditional culture to their son and young Geoffrey was surrounded by poets, traditional storytellers and musicians from an early age. His father, an English teacher by profession, also taught him the art of pentatonic music, training him on the nanga (a seven-stringed harp) and introducing him to laraka laka (a genre of music linked to traditional 'seduction rituals' which Oreyma sees as the roots of "real Ugandan rock").

Later Geoffrey's mother, head of the country's national dance troupe "The Hearbeat of Africa", would whisk her son off on tours across Uganda, opening his eyes to different regions. In his teenage years Geoffrey went on to broaden his own horizons, discovering the joys of Anglo-Saxon rock culture via The Rolling Stones and Californian flower-power while attending Kampala's best schools alongside the teenage offspring of Uganda's British and American ex-pat community. Meanwhile, young Geoffrey maintained his interest in traditional African culture, learning the lukeme (thumb piano) as well as flute and guitar.

Geoffrey originally set out to pursue a career in theatre, taking a series of courses at Uganda's National School of Dramatic Art. And when General Idi Amin seized power in February 1971, overthrowing President Milton Obote in a military coup, young Geoffrey began to write his first plays (heavily inspired by Brecht, Stanislavski and Grotowski). These early avant-garde works mined the Theatre of the Absurd vein, mixing tribal sounds and bursts of onomatopoeic utterances with improvisations and mythical allegories (which would surface in his later recording work).

In these early plays Oryema also explored the traumas suffered by the Ugandan people under Amin's destructive regime. Speaking of the havoc wreaked by Amin's brutal forces, Oryema remembers how "every day we were brought face to face with what was happening on the streets. People were being killed and bundled into car boots right under our very noses!" These traumas touched Oryema's own life directly in February 1977 when his father, who had become Minister of Water and Resources, was killed in a mysterious car crash (which had all the makings of a political assassination).

European Exile

While Idi Amin, "the black Ubu Roi" stepped up his exactions against the Acholi and took increasingly drastic steps to eliminate political opposition, Oryema decided it was time to flee his homeland. Crossing Lake Victoria he headed for Kenya where he was taken in by the French Cultural Centre in Nairobi, which had just put on a production of his latest play Le R├Ęgne de la Terreur (The Reign of Terror). While Kampala suffered the final years of Amin's bloody regime, Oryema set his sights on Paris. Bowing to his passion for the French language - which he claims is one of the most wonderful-sounding languages in the wor .... Click here to read the full bio on DISCOGS.

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