Celebrating William Onyeabor, the little known Nigerian music genius


I start this article with an apology. I admit I had not heard about William Onyeabor, the Nigerian musician who died recently at 70 until news of his death became public knowledge. But it’s not my fault. I am a 90’s kid after all.

Born on March 26, 1946, William Onyeabor was a funk musician who released eight albums on his own record label Wilfilms Limited in the late 70s and early eighties. Note that I said funk musician. This was in a time where highlife music was ultra-popular.

For him to stick to his guns and keep doing funk music when most people were just discovering musicians like Oliver De Coque and Stephen Osadebe is truly amazing.

So I did a little research and I found out some amazing stuff about him.

See some of them below:

1. Call him an enigma or legend and you won’t be wrong


Here’s how international website Rolling Stone described him: “An extraordinary artist, businessman and visionary, Mr. Onyeabor’s surprising recordings, his conscious lyrics and messages and his entrepreneurial ambitions were all way ahead of their time.” The U.K Guardian said “He seems to have existed out of time and in a world of his own imagination”. I’m sure you get the drift now.

Listen to his songs HERE

2. He became famous 30 years after he released his first album

Like I wrote above, Mr Onyeabor had made his eight albums between 1977-1985. But he did not get worldwide fame until 2010 when his tracks like When the Going Is Smooth & Good, Better Change Your Mind, Fantastic Man and Atomic Bomb appeared on compilations of Seventies Nigerian music through the efforts of popular American musician David Bryne and his record label Luaka Bop.

3. As a born again Christian, TB Joshua was his favorite pastor


At the height of his brief music career, Mr Onyeabor became a born again Christian. He stopped making music. He also refused to talk about his career and choosing instead to talk only about God whenever he had interview requests. In fact when Welles-Nyström a representative of Luaka Bop would visit him, he would find him watching popular preacher TB Joshua’s programmes.

4. Music aside, he was also a wealthy entrepreneur

After quitting music, The Chief as he was known in his hometown of Enugu became an entrepreneur. He set up a flour mill which mainly produced Semolina. He was also named West African Industrialist of the year in 1987. He was also elected the chairman of Rangers football club in the 90s.

5. A documentary was made about his life


Mr Onyeabor’s music influenced a lot of people. American musician David Bryne alongside Damon Albarn, Dev Hynes, Hot Chip’s Alexis Taylor, and LCD Soundsystem’s Pat Mahoney all came together to form Atomic Bomb!, a band that performs his songs all over the world. They even performed songs off his Who is William Onyeabor album on TV show Late Night with Jimmy Fallon in 2015. Music website Noisey also made a revealing documentary about his life. You can watch it HERE

6. He is survived by four children and four grandchildren.

There are many more things to know about the life of this legendary singer. A quick Google search will help you out. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family following his death.

RIP Mr William Onyeabor.



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