Smiling behind a bank of futuristic machines, William Onyeabor was the world’s most unlikely musical revolutionary – a one-man Nigerian synth-funk powerhouse that self-produced nine records that took decades to find an audience. Yet to his renaissance he was largely a spectator: after a final burst of creativity, Onyeabor abandoned his musical monomania in the mid-1980s, and never made music again.
Luaka Bop – David Byrne’s label which brought Onyeabor’s records out of the rarefied but thin air of record collectors and into something like the mainstream – has announced that Onyeabor died on January 16 2017 following a brief illness “at his home in Enugu, Nigeria.”
“An extraordinary artist, businessman and visionary, Mr. Onyeabor composed and self-released 9 brilliant albums of groundbreaking electronic-funk from 1977-1985, which he recorded, pressed and printed at Wilfilms Limited—his personal pressing plant in southeast Nigeria,” Luaka Bop’s post reads. “In the late 1980’s, he was awarded West African Industrialist of the Year and given the honorary title “Justice of the Peace”. In the early 1990’s, he became the President of Enugu’s Musician’s Union and Chairman of the city’s local football team, The Enugu Rangers. For many in his hometown of Enugu, Nigeria, he was simply referred to as “The Chief” and known for having created many opportunities for the people in his community.
“Still, William Onyeabor would never speak about himself and for a long time refused many of the interview requests that came his way. Having become Born Again in the latter part of life, he only wanted to speak about God.”
William Onyeabor was 70 years old. The story of William Onyeabor – or, rather, the mystery of William Onyeabor and the story of his music – was captured in a short documentary, Fantastic Man.