Although Ugandan multi-instrumentalist Daniel Okiror aka Benon insists that his music is still evolving, he has already claimed his place in the Afro-fusion pantheon, which is popular in the circles of “world music.”
“My music is still evolving so it’s hard to give an exact description. I like boasting of having created a true Ugandan genre based on authentic pentatonic instruments from this region. For now, you can call it Afro-fusion because of the use of different African instruments — mainly akongo (kalimba), adungu, adeudeu, edodoi, arigirigi — with Western instruments like the acoustic guitar, bass guitar, saxophone, keys and western drum set,” Okiror said.
Accompanied by his band, Pure Aroma Africa, Okiror launched his third album Emuria Koliai (“Let the seed grow” in the Ateso language) at the National Theatre in Kampala on December 12.
Okiror, who sings in Ateso, Luganda, Luo, Swahili and English, released his other two albums One Lover in 2009, and Light in Africa in 2012. Although he plays several instruments, he says that the akogo (East African thumb piano) and nyatiti (African lyre) are his favourites.
Okiror has performed in Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Israel and The Netherlands.
He was born in 1985 in northern Uganda. He had a difficult childhood growing up as an orphan in Soroti district in the east of the country. He lost his mother when he was three months old and his father when he was six.
Okiror’s musical roots can be traced back to the age of three, when he first wrote a song called Papa Ijaka (Father... who will help me). His uncle and grandparents became involved in special community events like Ekembe, Amongin and Ebuda/Ajosi festivals, which grew his interest in music. Influenced by his family’s love of music, he began to experiment with various instruments.
This unique brand of music landed him his first tour abroad. Together with the Ngoma ya Mungu band, they toured South Korea for six weeks in 2009.
The tour’s success gave him the motivation to pursue another passion — helping street children. On returning from South Korea, Okiror relocated from Kampala to Mombasa in Kenya, in a quest to reach out to street children.
He settled in Mombasa in 2010 and established an organisation called Wana Wa Mola, which rehabilitates street children backed by Cornerstone Development Africa, a Ugandan-American organisation that focuses on youth leadership development, Beats of Hope Foundation in the Netherlands and the FFC in Illinois, USA.
He started a record label, Pure Aroma, in Mombasa, to provide a creative outlet for the children and promote African music and film.
Okiror holds a Diploma in Music from the Africa Institute of Music in Kampala and a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Sciences from Makerere University. He is currently pursuing a Masters degree in Project Planning and Management at the University of Nairobi.