William Onyeabor (26 March 1946 – 16 January 2017) was a Nigerian funk musician and businessman. His music was widely heard in Nigeria in the late 1970s and early 1980s, but he remained an enigmatic figure, private and reclusive.
|Born||26 March 1946|
|Died||16 January 2017(aged 70)|
|Labels||Wilfilms, Luaka Bop|
Onyeabor's songs are often heavily rhythmic and synthesized, occasionally epic in scope, with lyrics decrying war and sung by both Onyeabor himself and female backing vocalists. In the 2010s, some of his songs appeared on various compilations, most frequently his biggest hit, "Better Change Your Mind", which appeared on Africa 100, World Psychedelic Classics 3: Love's a Real Thing – The Funky Fuzzy Sounds of West Africa, and Nigeria 70: The Definitive Story of 1970's Funky Lagos, through labels such as Luaka Bop.
Onyeabor was born into a poor family, but became financially successful enough to travel to Europe to study record manufacturing. Some biographies claim that he studied cinematography in Russia, returning to Nigeria in the 1970s to start his own Wilfilms music label and to set up a recording and production studio. He was later crowned a High Chief in Enugu, where he lived as a businessman working on government contracts and running his own semolina flour mill. His business successes saw him named West African Industrialist of the Year in 1987.
According to the Luaka Bop record label, Onyeabor "self-released eight albums between 1977 and 1985 and then became a born-again Christian, refusing to ever speak about himself or his music again." The label reported that through attempting to speak with Onyeabor himself, and by talking to people who seem to have firsthand knowledge, it tried to construct an accurate biography of him for 18 months, without success.
In 2014, the music website Noisey, affiliated to Vice magazine, released a 31-minute documentary entitled Fantastic Man that documents Onyeabor's history and legacy as well as Noisey's attempt to track him down for an interview. 2014 also saw a touring supergroup called the Atomic Bomb! Band come together to play 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. Other admirers of Onyeabor's work include Dan Snaith, Four Tet and Tune-Yards. His song Fantastic Man was featured in Apple's iPhone 7 Plus "Barbers" commercial in 2017.
In December 2014, William Onyeabor made his debut radio broadcast on the Lauren Laverne Show on BBC 6 Music, where he stated "I only create music that will help the world," whilst also admitting that he had never played live, and announcing that he had plans to release new material.
Onyeabor had four children. He died, aged 70, on 16 January 2017.
- Donohue, John (5 May 2014). "Doctor Who". The New Yorker. p. 16. Retrieved 30 April 2014.
- Pareles, Jon (13 February 2005). "The Temptations of the Power Ballad". The New York Times. Retrieved 27 July 2010.
- Barclay, Michael (25 August 2005). "A whole new beginning; New New Pornographers, no coup for Trews and some funky good times". The Record. Retrieved 27 July 2010.
- Kara, Scott (22 May 2009). "Various – Nigeria 70". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 27 July 2010.
- Lynskey, Dorian (18 January 2017). "William Onyeabor: one of music's most insoluble puzzles to the end". theguardian.com. Retrieved 18 January 2017.
- "A William Onyeabor Experience", Rough Trade Records. Retrieved 11 October 2013
- "Who is William Onyeabor?", Luaka Bop Records. Retrieved 11 October 2013
- Fantastic Man – A Film About William Onyeabor. Retrieved 19 March 2014
- "RIP William Onyeabor". David Byrne.
- "The Songs of William Onyeabor, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music". New York Times. Retrieved 2014-05-07.
- Empire, Kitty (23 August 2015). "Sunn O))); Atomic Bomb! review – cacophony in the key of ))) major". theguardian.com. Retrieved 18 January 2017.
- Apple (2017-05-15), iPhone 7 Plus — Barbers — Apple, retrieved 2017-06-05
- "Exclusive: Lauren chats to William Onyeabor Parts 1 & 2". BBC. Retrieved 15 December 2014.
- "Legendary Nigerian musician, William Onyeabor dies at 72".
- Rubin, Mike (15 November 2013). "An Elusive Mystery Man of Music". The New York Times. Retrieved 19 January 2017.
- Beta, Andy (12 December 2014). "Reviews: William Onyeabor Box Set". Retrieved 19 January 2017.
- "William Onyeabor Crashes in Love – Volume 2". Rough Trade Records. Retrieved 19 January 2017.
- "Who is William Onyeabor? Tracklist". williamonyeabor.com. Retrieved 19 January 2017.