Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Pioneering Afro-Electro-Funk of William Onyeabor

William Onyeabor


Who is William Onyeaborno one really knows for sure.  what we do know is that Onyeabor was a pioneering oddity in the 1970s and 80s Nigerian funk music scene, performing his own brand of African electronic dance music.  he never performed live, and few people ever actually met the man, but his records were hugely successful on the Nigerian club scene.  he performed and produced the music himself, released his albums on his own label Wilfilms, and even manufactured his records at his own vinyl pressing plant.  his sound sprouted from the psychedelic afro-funk around him in mid 70s Nigeria, but sharply diverged from there, and eventually stumbled upon an endless repetition of synthesizer dance floor loops.  there was no one else around even vaguely sounding like Onyeabor at that time. his ideas seemed to be closer to German Krautrock than anything else, and his later work prophesied 1980s house music.  in 1985, Onyeabor became a born-again Christian and completely disappeared from public view, hiding away in his Nigerian palace.

few people know any other details about him. legend has Onyeabor learning music production in Stockholm, Sweden before moving on to study cinematography in Moscow, until he returned to Nigeria to make films and produce their soundtracks.  no one can recall ever actually seeing an Onyeabor film, though.  his studio was packed with state of the art recording equipment and an army of synthesizers, but there is no record of how or where Onyeabor would have been able to purchase this expensive equipment.  there are no other musician credits, so it it unknown if he had a backing band or if he was performing everything himself.  all that remains are his records and the music embedded in the grooves.

Onyeabor's music once again emerged on the classic Nigeria 70 funk compilation, and in 2013 Luaka Bop issued World Psychedelic Classics 5: Who is William Onyeabor?, a collection spanning his entire careerafter an exhausting battle to track Onyeabor down and secure licensing rights, Luaka Bop finally released a deluxe box set collecting all eight of Onyeabor's albums in 2014.  to celebrate the occasion, the man himself came from the shadows and granted the BBC his first ever radio interview (check it out HERE) where he revealed he will be releasing a new album of gospel music in the near future.

*William Onyeabor passed away peacefully at his home on January 16 at the age of 70.  RIP.

here are a few of my favorites from the Who is William Onyeabor? compilation:

and here is Noisey's Onyeabor documentary Fantastic Man.

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