By Website writer
Musicians, industry players and fans have paid tribute to legendary Ugandan musician Geoffrey Oryema who died on Friday aged 65.
A statement by family spokesperson Gerald Omony said the singer died in France after a long battle with cancer.
“The family of Erinayo Oryema wishes to inform you with deepest sorrow the sudden loss of their beloved uncle, an internationally renowned Ugandan musician, Ladit Geoffrey Oryema, that occurred this afternoon in France where he was resident,” the statement said.
Condolences have poured in from around the world, including from English musician and co-founder of Real World Records Peter Gabriel.
Peter Brian Gabriel is an English singer-songwriter, record producer and humanitarian who rose to fame as the original lead singer and flautist of the progressive rock band Genesis.
“I was very upset to learn of Geoffrey Oryema’s death,” Gabriel said on his website. “Geoffrey was one of the original artists on our label and one of the most loved. It feels as if we have lost one of our original family members and although Geoffrey went his own way in recent years we always felt he was a Real World artist.
“With his rich low voice and beautiful songs he could mesmerise audiences whether in a small club or Wembley Stadium. He has shown great courage with all the struggles he has had to deal with in his life.”
Oryema released his first album Exile, known for songs such as ‘Land of Anaka’ and ‘Makambo’, with Real World Records in 1990.
Kenyan musician Ayub Ogada, who had worked with Oryema before relocating back to Kenya, was unaware of the singer’s death at the time Music In Africa contacted him at his home in Nyahera village.
“I am saddened by his death because he was not just someone I worked with but also a dear friend. He liked to experiment with music from around the world.”
Ogada said he met Oryema in 1988 after joining Real World Records courtesy of Gabriel, who later paired them up for performances across Europe.
“Oryema was always keen on promoting Acholi music,” Ogada said. “We worked well together because we all played traditional instruments. But it is unfortunate that we never got much recognition in Africa. It is a great shame that we as world music artists have to go to Europe and make a name for ourselves before we are celebrated by our own people.”
Ogada said Oryema always wanted to play in his fatherland despite the popularity he had attained in Europe. “His heart was always set on performing in Uganda. I knew it would take time for him to return home because he witnessed the death of his father and that brought a lot of sour memories.”
Oryema went into exile in 1977 after the killing of his father, Erinayo Wilson Oryema, who was a cabinet minister in the government of Idi Amin. Erinayo was allegedly killed on Amin’s orders and the 24-year-old Geoffrey was smuggled out of the country in the trunk of a car into Kenya before relocating to France for the rest of his life. In 2016, almost 40 years after going into exile, Oryema returned to Kampala where he performed and reunited with family and friends.
“His death has come as a shock because I was sure that after his first visit he would frequent Uganda more often and we would meet,” Ogada said. “I wish I would have been able to travel and see him when he invited me in 2016 but it was on short notice. It would have been a great reunion.”
Apart from Ogada, Oryema also worked with Congolese musician Lokua Kanza, who said: “It was an incredible experience working with Geoffrey. I worked on his Night to Night album, which was a great success.
“We have lost a great artist and I am deeply grateful for the music I created with him. My prayers and condolences go out to his family and to the Ugandan nation.”
Oryema’s music has been featured in several films including Un Indien Dans La Ville (1994), Bedazzled (2000), I Dreamed of Africa (2000) and The Last Face (2016).