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Geoffrey Oryema

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Geoffrey Oryema (born 16 April 1953) is an internationally renowned Ugandan musician. At the age of 24, at the height of Idi Amin’s power, Oryema was smuggled across the Ugandan border in the trunk of a car, following the death of his father, a prominent government minister, beginning a life in exile. Today his songs keep alive the languages of his youth - Swahili and Acholi and return to the lost country - the ‘clear green land’ of Uganda.

Most artists have to pay their dues, but very few have to be smuggled out of their birth countries to avoid death on the way. But for Geoffrey Oryema, that was the only way to survive. Born in Uganda, he was the son of a civil servant who was a police chief and then a cabinet minister and from his father he learned the local folk music, as well as the nanga (the harp), in addition to studying Western music in school. However, these were dangerous times in the country, with the mad dictator Idi Amin in power, and in 1977, Oryema’s father fell victim, being one of many who was murdered by the armed forces. Oryema knew he was likely to be killed soon, unless he got out. Thanks to friends, he was smuggled across the border to Kenya in the trunk of a car to safety. Or, rather, relative safety. He was in a place with no family or friends and began his wanderings, which saw him eventually making his way to Paris.

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