Saturday, January 21, 2017

WILLIAM ONYEABOR, 1946 – 2017 (His Life and His Music)

William Onyeabor was a celebrated Nigerian Musician, Producer, studio and label owner who pioneered Afro Synth-Funk in the late 1970s. He was born in Enugu, Nigeria on 26th March, 1946 into a poor family, but became financially successful enough to travel to Europe to study record manufacturing. A classic case of grass to grace story.
William Onyeabor composed and self-released nine albums between 1977 and 1985 on his label, Wilfilms Records. His songs were often heavily rhythmic and synthesized, occasionally epic in scope, with lyrics decrying war but encouraging love, good friendship and good living. William Onyeabor sang his songs himself with some female backing vocalists.
William Onyeabor’s most popular songs include “Atomic Bomb”; “Tomorrow”; “When the Going is Smooth and Good” “This kind of World”; and “Hypertension”. His full discography is here:
  • Crashes in Love (1977)
  • Atomic Bomb (1978)
  • Crashes in Love – Volume 2 (1979)
  • Tomorrow (1979)
  • Body & Soul (1980)
  • Great Lover (1981)
  • Hypertension (1982)
  • Good Name (1983)
  • Anything You Sow (1985)

William Onyeabor was awarded West African Industrialist of the Year in the late 1980’s, and given the honorary title “Justice of the Peace. In the early 1990’s, he became the President of Enugu Musicians Union and Chairman of the city’s highly reputable football team, The Enugu Rangers. He was also given a chieftaincy title by his home community for creating many opportunities for the people in his community.
Upon his popularity as a songwriter and a recording artist in Nigeria, William Onyeabor has not performed live on stage! Surprised? He was also not known beyond the shores of Nigeria until recently, 2013 to be precise, when Luaka Bop record label released “Who is William Onyeabor?” which was a compilation of William Onyeabor’s songs, his music and story took the world by storm.
The release was featured in major newspapers, radio and television stations all around the world. Time Magazine listed him as number 4 on a shortlist of that year’s best albums. In 2014, the film documentary “Fantastic Man” followed, as well as a touring supergroup called the Atomic Bomb! Band who came together to play William Onyeabor's music at a series of concerts and festivals around the world. The group is led by Music Director Ahmed Gallab and his band Sinkane and includes David Byrne (of Talking Heads), Money Mark (of the Beastie Boys), Damon Albarn (of Blur and Gorillaz), Dev Hynes (aka Blood Orange and Lightspeed Champion), Alexis Taylor (of Hot Chip), Charles Lloyd and Amadou and Mariam.

William Onyeabor died peacefully in his sleep following a brief illness at his home in Enugu State on 16th January, 2017 at the age of 70. May his gentle soul rest in peace. Amen.

Emeka Okeke
Port Harcourt, Nigeria 
January, 2017.