For our final post in this particular series on Anywaa music, we’re featuring Okwori Ojulu Oman, who composed several of the obeero and agwaa-ga in the Anywaa Christian songbook and has still hundreds more. Ojho and I paid him a visit at his residence in Abobo, a little town about an hour by bus from Gambella. Lucky for us, Okwori was more than happy to sing some of his songs and talk with us about his path to becoming a composer.
Okwori started composing around 1963, shortly after his conversion to Christianity. His family, including his father, composed and sang traditional Anywaa songs. Although his family performed secular songs, which Okwori stopped doing after his conversion, he still adopted the traditional obeero and agwaa-ga genres for his compositions, adapting them and using religious lyrics.
We already have Okwori’s songs from the blue songbook loaded online, so let’s listen to some of his other original songs.
The first one is titled, “Obeero akway wuuo jwok.”
You’ll notice that “obeero” is not just a song genre but also a lyric in many of these songs from the Anywaa songbook. In this way, it can mean, “Beautiful” or “Respectable.”
Okwori is also an instrumentalist. He plays the thoom, ethnomusicologically known as the lamellophone and popularly known in English as the “thumb piano.” He sang two more original songs accompanying himself on the thoom, “Jeco ojwok raay akaare” and “Awuuo jwok akwaya iini.”
I asked Okwori what he envisions his songs doing for the Anywaa people, and he said that he hopes, “It will help them to grow in their faith.” For Okwori himself, “Whenever I sing my own songs, sometimes I close my eyes, and I [see] a picture of heaven…Even, sometimes, if I get sick, when I sing my own songs, I feel like I am in heaven already.” And for you, dear readers, Okwori offers this advice: “Whenever you listen to these songs, please, I beg you to listen carefully…I’m sure that, those songs, if you listen to them carefully, God will help you through them.”
This wraps up our section on Anywaa music for the moment, since I’m leaving Gambella tomorrow [July 3 2016] to do some research on music in western Oromia. Look forward to some future posts from our ultimate destination, Nekemte! In the meantime, I want to offer one more big thank you to Anywaa research associates Apay Ojulu Aballa and Ojho Ojulu Othow for finding singers, translating, offering their extensive knowledge on Anywaa culture, and for overall being awesome people. I will also point out that Ojho has more or less co-authored these posts, since he proofread through all of them, made corrections, and offered additional insights.
We certainly made a great team this year, and we hope our research has provided some insights into the Anywaa’s rich culture and musical creativity.