‘AM SO HAPPY TO BE HOME!’ In Saturday’s performance, Geoffrey Oryema showed Ugandans why he is considered by the West as among the “voices of Africa.” Kampalans and the Acholi community experienced firsthand why he is highly esteemed for his musical intelligence and ability to cross the stylistic boundaries of culture and time.
He has lived in exile in Paris for nearly 40 years and now for the first time he returned home to perform in Kampala at Lohana Academy during the inaugural Bayimba Honours concert that recognized private individuals, artists, families, institutions and companies with an outstanding record of philanthropy aimed at the development of the arts and culture in Uganda like Ras Kasozi, Sana Gateja and Goretti Kyomuhendo who were awarded.
In the uptown Kampala surburb of Kololo, Oryema now 64, gave the revved up audience a most riveting performance, a 45-minute set filled with deeply soulful vocals sung in multiple languages over insistent, syncopated rhythmic patterns and the night’s funkiest drum breaks. The dreadlocked artist wore all white (tshirt, pants, shoes) and was a commanding presence on stage, particularly when he went on soaring vocal runs, during which he sounded like a Sufi devotional singer.
Former presidential candidate Olara Otunu welcomed Geoffrey Oryema with an emotional speech mixed in Acholi, Englsih and French that stretched back to their early friendship and interactions in North American and Europe.
When he finally hit the stage minutes after 11pm Ugandan time, Oryema took his fans through a number of songs from How Long Will It Take extracted from his 2010 album From the Heart, Geoffrey’s open letter to Joseph Kony leader of the Lord’s Resistence Army (LRA) and before he sung Leaving Town done in 2012, then took an interlude to console the widows in Syria, Iraq and Somalia while condemning the hostilities through his hit song Bombs Are Falling. The internationally renowned Ugandan musician then paid tribute to his late beloved brother in an emotional Omera John number off the 2000 album Spirit followed up by La Lettre also off From the Heart. Up next was To Africa With Love which is on his upcoming album before also performing Ye Ye Ye that depicted the plight of child soldiers from his debut album that was produced by Brian Eno at Real World Studios and released in 1991.
Oryema is an experienced performer. At his age, he was obviously comfortable on stage and more importantly, with the music he was sharing. When he was not singing, he danced around, often coming right up to the edge of the stage, inviting the audience to dance along. He would also joke around with members of the audience.
It was a very personable performance, despite the less-familiar nature of the music. His voice was incredible, possessing a rare power and wide range. The music was incredibly powerful and moving, an unforgettable experience capped off just after midnight with LAND OF ANAKA, his biggest and most popular song.
Oryema’s powerful vocal and guitar performance was accompanied by Zenon Kasanzi drums and dancer, Edouard Ferleton on the piano and guitarist Ali Otmane.
Oryema showed how Uganda’s music is an incredibly rich and fertile ground and why his songs keep alive the languages of his youth – in Luo, Zulu, Swahili, Luganda, English and of his current home, French.
Although revered as one of the Uganda’s greatest musicians, he is rarely acknowledged, let alone honored, in his homeland. He is more known to the older generation of Ugandans. His songs were on the regular hit selection on Radio Uganda back in the day.