William Onyeabor Dead at 70

William Onyeabor Dead at 70

William Onyeabor, the Nigerian synth funk pioneer, died in his sleep on Monday, the Luaka Bop label has announced. Onyeabor, who was 70, had been suffering a brief illness at his home in Enugu, Nigeria.

Onyeabor launched his music career in the 1970s, when he put together an impressive home studio and pressing plant in Enugu. Between ’77-’85, he single-handedly recorded, pressed, and printed a series of groundbreaking synth-funk albums. They included classic songs such as “Good Name” and “Fantastic Man,” novel takes on synthesizer-driven funk that stood out even within Nigeria’s thriving music scene

In ’85, Onyeabor became a devout christian and stopped recording music. His records began to command enormous prices, particularly as interest generated in the West. Onyeabor’s retreat held fast, while his reluctance to discuss his music career—beyond lamenting that his songs did not sufficiently praise God—enhanced his enigma. In a rare interview, in 2014, he said, “I did study so many things, but they have nothing to do with my natural talent, because you don’t study talent. Talent comes from God.”

In 2013, David Byrne’s Luaka Bop label released Who Is William Onyeabor?, the first compilation of his work authorized in America. Byrne also organized a series of events paying tribute to the artist, who, despite rumors of an appearance, remained at home in his sprawling palace. Performers included Byrne himself, Damon Albarn, Dev Hynes, Hot Chip’s Alexis Taylor, and LCD Soundsystem’s Pat Mahoney.

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