William Onyeabor, RIP
Nigerian cult funk artist William Onyeabor has sadly passed away at age 70. His label Luaka Bop posted a statement on his Facebook. Here's an excerpt:
Rest In Peace, William Onyeabor (March 26, 1946 - January 16, 2017)
It is with incredibly heavy hearts that we have to announce that the great Nigerian business leader and mythic music pioneer William Onyeabor has passed away at the age of 70. He died peacefully in his sleep following a brief illness, at his home in Enugu, Nigeria
...We would like to send our deepest condolences to his family and thank each and every one of you who has helped share the love for his music around the world.
Onyeabor recorded nine albums from 1977 to 1985, and then took a break from music. Over the years since then, he made fans out of some key figures in Western pop music, like David Byrne, who eventually helped to further introduce Onyeabor's music to the Western world with the 2013 release of the Who Is William Onyeabor? compilation on Byrne's Luaka Bop label. A documentary came out the following year, featuring interviews with Damon Albarn, Caribou, Martyn Ware of The Human League, Femi Kuti, and more. A box set followed as well.
Though William Onyeabor remained mostly a recluse, Luaka Bop organized high-profile tribute concerts to him in recent years, including shows at BAM, Fallon, and Central Park, that featured David Byrne, Alexis Taylor (Hot Chip), Dev Hynes (Blood Orange), Kele Okereke (Bloc Party), Dead Prez, Pharoah Sanders, and more.
David Byrne also wrote a little about Onyeabor and you can read that below.
Rest in peace, William Onyeabor. You'll be missed.
William Onyeabor passed away at his home in Nigeria day before yesterday. His surprising (no other African musician was using synthesizers then) recordings, his conscious lyrics and messages and his entrepreneurial ambitions (up until selling them late last year, he had his own vinyl mastering and pressing machines!) were all way ahead of their time. He continues to inspire musicians and fans around the world.
I was deeply involved with the label Luaka Bop some years ago when Yale Evelev played me some funky-bordering-on-psychedelic tracks by a variety of African artists from the '70s. We put out a compilation of these called Love's a Real Thing, which contained a wonderful song by Onyeabor—"Better Change Your Mind"—a song whose message is as relevant today as it was then. More vinyl from this mysterious man was hard to find, but some trickled in.
Since then I've had less involvement with the label, but when they said they were doing these concerts of Onyeabor's music and asked if I would participate, I said yes. I joined the Atomic Bomb concerts in NY, London, Acapulco, San Francisco and LA. Multiple singers were anchored by the band Sinkane and augmented by African drummers, a horn section and often African singers as well. Those shows were some of the best times I've ever had on stage. Onyeabor's music came to life—it was fresh and transcendent. Everyone felt it. We played it, but he created it. - David Byrne