Musicians from around the world led by Peter Gabriel, Brian Eno, Bob Ezrin and executives of the Real World Records have paid tribute to Uganda-born musician Geoffrey Oryema, who died in France on June 22 at the age of 65.
Oryema, Uganda’s greatest music export had lived in France for nearly four decades.
In press statement released on June 22, the Oryema family described the musician as “a giant of a man, a true artiste, statesman, activist, father, and friend to many.”
Burial arrangements were yet to be announced. In a social media post on behalf of the Erinayo Oryema Family, Gerald Omony wrote; “Uncle Geoffrey had been battling cancer for quite some time.”
“I was very upset to learn of Geoffrey Oryema’s death,” said Peter Gabriel, British singer and songwriter and founding member of English band Genesis, in a statement on his website, adding: “Geoffrey was one of the original artistes on our label and one of the most loved.”
Gabriel is also one of the founders of the World of Music, Arts and Dance (Womad) Foundation and the Real World Records label.
“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 artiste. With his rich low voice and beautiful songs, he could mesmerise audiences whether in a small club or Wembley Stadium,” Gabriel added.
Oryema was born on April 16, 1953 in Soroti district, eastern Uganda. He is survived by wife Regine, children Chantal, Ajoline and Oceng, and several siblings.
At the age of 24, Oryema escaped to Kenya in the boot of a car after his father Erinayo Wilson Oryema, then a Cabinet minister was murdered by Idi Amin in 1977.
According to Gabriel, “Throughout, he has shown great courage with all the struggles he has had to deal with in his life and been a devoted husband, father and friend.”
“Dear Geoffrey… always smiling. A sweet, warm, charming and gifted man,” Brian Eno described the late Ugandan music star.
Ugandan folk/world music artiste Joel Sebunjo posted on his Facebook wall that his new song Oyoo off his forthcoming album titled United Slaves of Africa was inspired by the Ugandan legend.
“Sad news for Ugandan music. African music. World music. The legend Geoffrey Oryema has passed on! What a tragedy.
In September this year, we had plans to record in Lyon, France; unfortunately, it didn’t come to pass … Condolences to his family, friends and fans all over the world.
This man is a true Ugandan Legend. Rest in peace, big tree. You partly inspired my World Music journey together with the great Samite of Uganda…,” Sebunjo wrote.
His escape from Uganda and his struggles abroad were central themes of his classic debut album Exile, released by Real World Records in 1990 and produced by Brian Eno. The album is one of the most popular and significant records in the Real World catalogue.
Oryema last visited Uganda in 2016 and performed at the Geoffrey Oryema Home Coming Concert on December 17, at the Lohana Academy in Kampala.
He spoke with The EastAfrican on his 39 years in exile and his return: “It feels like the fire of a deep wound. I’ve lived with those wounds for most of my life. This is a rebirth and a new beginning.”
Geoffrey Oryema’s remains were cremated in France on June 30, 2018. The cremation followed a funeral service at Saint Pierre De Ploemeur Church 56, Morbinhan, France.
In his will Oryema had indicated that his remains should be cremated and the ashes flown to Uganda and dispersed at his ancestral family home in Purongo, Nwoya District, and some portions dispersed in Soroti, his town of birth.