Geoffrey Oryema: The Land of Anaka

You easily remember Oryema once you have seen a recent picture of him: blond dreads, and a hint of a blond tach. Now that’s something you don’t get to see often. I admit I am not a fan, unlike when it comes to his music. A true revelation for me, immediately reminiscent of Ayub Ogada, and thus it didn’t come as a surprise to me when I learnt that the two collaborated on some pieces.

UPDATE: Today, 23 June 2018, I learnt about his passing, aged 65, after a long fight with cancer.

Oryema presents a great mix of traditional East-African patterns, I suppose based on his native Acholi background, with modern influences, instrumentation and, especially, current themes. That is, as far as I can make out. From his first album on, Exile (1990), he has eminent support: the almost inevitable Brian Eno and Peter Gabriel. The latter of them lends his voice for background vocals on “Land of Anaka”, a very melancholic, obviously highly biographical as well as politically inspired song about the mess the Acholi in northern Uganda were in. After years of terror, first through Idi Amin, then especially through Kony. The region suffered badly, and may possibly, if slowly, be on its way up. When in 1977 Amin had the singer’s father, a high-ranking minister killed, Oryema, aged 24, was smuggled out of the country in the trunk of a car. The title of his first album Exile thus has more than a personal touch – it’s his story, and the music will leave hardly any listener untouched.

Of his later albums, I am currently indulging in Beat the Border (1993) and Spirit (2000), each worthy sequels to Exile.

Naturally I’m working on “Land of Anaka” for my Hotel-room recordings series. Not happy with the result yet. Will update this page when I am and it’s available on Soundcloud.

Here are the lyrics – including lines in the original Acholi-Luo, which are hard to come by on the web.

Anaka – a place in northern Uganda
Payira – Oryema’s clan and the biggest among the Acholi
obiga – lots of things, ranging from “meek and yielding” to a Christian religious one that implies retribution with the support of Christ

Land of Anaka

In this land of Anaka
They called us Payira
In this land of Anaka
They called us Payira

Obiga lead me in this darkness
Show me the way
Obiga take me to a place
Where I can see light

(Obiga wee tela yoo wek acet anen otara)
(Meno woda maa kikome. Wod Anaka)?

(Obiga lead me in this darkness)
Show me the way
(Obiga lead me in this darkness)
Show me the way

In this land of Anaka
They called us Payira
In this land of Anaka
They called us Payira

(Obiga wee tela yoo wek acet anen otara)
(Meno woda maa kikome. Wod Anaka)?

Obiga lead me in this darkness
Show me the way
Obiga lead me in this darkness
Show me the way

(Obiga lead me in this darkness)
Show me the way
(Obiga take me home, take me home)
Obiga lead me in this darkness
Show me the way

In this land of Anaka
We had hope in Obiga
In this land of Anaka
We had hope in Obiga

We had hopes, we had dreams
Of a clear green land
In place of the family house
Dead sand, dead sand

(Obiga lead me in this darkness)
(Obiga wee tela yoo wek acet anen otara)
(Meno woda maa kikome. Wod Anaka)?

Show me the way
(Obiga take me home)
Show me the way

Obiga is no more
We are left in disarray
(Obiga take me home)
The clan of Anaka, pillar

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