William Onyeabor

Among the many artists who have expressed excitement about Luaka Bop’s Onyeabor project is Dan Snaith (Caribou), whose only interview this year was a 90-minute conversation with the label about Onyeabor. In it, Snaith said, “You never forget hearing his music for the first time. All the genre tags, they miss the point, they miss the magic.”

In a brief recording career that lasted from 1978 to 1985, the Nigerian artist William Onyeabor made utterly unique music ranging from synthheavy electronic tracks to Afrosoul with saxophones and female backup singers, to psychedelic funk with wah-wah guitar and fuzzy keyboards.

[button link=”http://prpfm.streamon.fm/?playlist/16&live” size=”large” target=”_blank”]Listen to Willian Onyeabor’s Atomic Bomb[/button]

Although virtually unknown in the West, and having long turned his back on music, Onyeabor is beloved by die-hard record collectors and artists including Damon Albarn, Devendra Banhart, Four Tet and Carl Craig, to name a few. Luaka Bop is the first label to successfully license Onyeabor’s music and has undertaken an enormous, multi-dimensional project to introduce it to a wider audience. It has scheduled the centerpiece collection, “World Psychedelic Classics 5: Who Is William Onyeabor?,” for release on Oct. 29.

“Who Is William Onyeabor?” may be the most complicated, if also one of the richest undertakings in Luaka Bop’s (rarely straightforward) 25-year history. Following the eight albums Onyeabor self-released between 1978 and 1985, he became a born-again Christian, refusing ever to speak about himself or his music again. Various biographies can be found online. Some say he studied cinematography in the Soviet Union and returned to Nigeria in the mid-’70s to start his own film company, Wilfilms. Some say he was a lawyer with a degree from a university in Great Britain. Others portray him as a businessman who for years worked on government contracts in Enugu, Nigeria.

By attempting to speak with Onyeabor himself, and by talking to people who seem to have first-hand knowledge, Luaka Bop has been trying to construct an accurate biography of him for the past 18 months…without success.

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