- Sight & Sound
Who is William Onyeabor?
Who is William Onyeabor?
William Onyeabor is shrouded in a fog of rumors and misinformation, making him one of Nigeria’s most fascinating and elusive electro-funk musicians. Even the information that is considered factual doesn’t quite add up. Allegedly, he spent some time studying film at a Russian university, returned to work in what became the Nollywood film industry, established a film company, ditched that to pursue electronic music, and was possibly even a Moog retailer for a period of time. In fact, when the record company Luaka Bop made the decision to pursue rereleasing his music, they had to track him down and convince him before he would even allow them to do so. That process took five years.
What we know for sure is that the man was making synth-infused music in the 1970s and 80s that was way ahead of its time. Influenced by disco, funk, and foreign cinema, though nothing about him is for certain, Onyeabor concocted a signature blend of electronic funk that seamlessly married the idiosyncratic rhythms of Nigeria with the unmistakable and futuristic sounds of Bob Moog’s iconic synthesizers.
You might be asking, “How exactly did he get ahold of these synthesizers?” Well, we don’t really know, but he definitely had quite the collection. The few photographs of his recording sessions depict a fashionable cowboy surrounded by keyboards and drum machines. Trained ears will note that the strings and whacky, filter-driven leads that slither through his records could only have come from a Moog, most likely the Polymoog, released in 1975 and discontinued in 1980. Onyeabor wasn’t playing around; he was serious about the quality of his sounds, and made the right choices. Tracks like “Good Name,” and “Let’s Fall In Love” clearly illustrate his adeptness and signature creativity on a synthesizer, and one can’t help drawing parallels between the long-form grooves of his tracks and the hypnotic, never-ending nature of house music, a genre that would become popular almost a decade later than most of his releases.
On October 29th, Luaka Bop will release the fifth installment in their World Psychedelic Classics series, titled, “Who is William Onyeabor?” The answer to that question is 9 tracks long, and extremely funky. Onyeabor’s music will be celebrated through parties all around the globe, featuring special DJ sets and performances from Peaking Lights, Lovefingers, Pilooski, Joakim and many others! You can RVSP to these parties at www.williamonyeabor.com, and don’t forget to preorder World Psychedelic Classics 5: Who is William Onyeabor here.