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William Onyeabor

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William Onyeabor
Background information
Born(1946-03-26)26 March 1946
OriginEnugu, Nigeria
Died16 January 2017(2017-01-16) (aged 70)
  • Vocals
  • synthesizer
Years active1977–1985

William Ezechukwu Onyeabor // (/ɒnˈjɑːbɔː/, on-YAH-baw; 26 March 1946 – 16 January 2017) was a Nigerian funk musician and businessman.[7] His music was widely heard in Nigeria in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Despite his success, he remained an enigmatic, private, and reclusive figure.


Onyeabor's songs are often heavily rhythmic and synthesized, occasionally epic in scope, with lyrics decrying war. Onyeabor himself and female backing singers provided vocals. In the 2010s, some of his songs appeared on various compilations, most frequently his biggest hit, "Better Change Your Mind", which appeared on Africa 100, World Psychedelic Classics 3: Love's a Real Thing – The Funky Fuzzy Sounds of West Africa on Luaka Bop,[8][9] and Nigeria 70: The Definitive Story of 1970's Funky Lagos on Strut Records.[10]


Onyeabor was born into a poor family, but became financially successful enough to travel to Europe to study record manufacturing.[11] Some biographies claim that he studied cinematography in Russia, returning to Nigeria in the 1970s to start his own Wilfilms music label and to set up a recording and production studio. He was later crowned a High Chief in Enugu, where he lived as a businessman working on government contracts and running his own semolina flour mill.[12][11] His business successes saw him named West African Industrialist of the Year in 1987.[11]

According to the Luaka Bop record label, Onyeabor "self-released eight albums between 1977 and 1985 and then became a born-again Christian, refusing to ever speak about himself or his music again." The label reported that through attempting to speak with Onyeabor himself, and by talking to people who seem to have firsthand knowledge, it tried to construct an accurate biography of him for 18 months, without success.[13]

In 2014, the music website Noisey, affiliated to Vice magazine, released a 31-minute documentary entitled Fantastic Man that documents Onyeabor's history and legacy as well as Noisey's attempt to track him down for an interview.[14] 2014 also saw a touring supergroup called the Atomic Bomb! Band come together to play Onyeabor's music at a series of concerts and festivals around the world. The group is led by musical director Ahmed Gallab[15] and his band Sinkane and includes David Byrne, Money Mark,[16] Damon Albarn, Pat Mahoney, Dev Hynes,[11] Alexis Taylor, Charles Lloyd and Amadou and Mariam.[17] Other admirers of Onyeabor's work include Dan Snaith, Four Tet and Tune-Yards.[11] His song "Fantastic Man" was featured in a television commercial for Apple's iPhone 7 Plus in 2017,[18] as well as in a 2023 commercial for H&M.[19]

In December 2014, Onyeabor made his debut radio broadcast on the Lauren Laverne Show on BBC 6 Music, where he stated "I only create music that will help the world," and announced that he had plans to release new material.[20]

Onyeabor had four children. One of his children, Charles Onyeabor, is also a musician.[21]

Onyeabor died at his home in Enugu on 16 January 2017, aged 70, following a brief illness.[22][3]


  • Crashes in Love (1977)[23]
  • Atomic Bomb (1978)[5]
  • Tomorrow (1979)[5]
  • Body & Soul (1980)[5][24]
  • Great Lover (1981)[5]
  • Hypertension (1982)[5]
  • Crashes in Love – Version 2 (1982)[25]
  • Good Name (1983)[5]
  • Anything You Sow (1985)[23]
  • Who is William Onyeabor? (compilation)[11] (2013)
  • What?! (Covers and remixes) (2014)


  1. ^ "William Onyeabor | Biography, Albums, Streaming Links". AllMusic.
  2. ^ "Damon Albarn leads supergroup in live tribute to Nigerian funk pioneer William Onyeabor". 2 April 2014.
  3. ^ a b "William Onyeabor, Mysterious Funk Musician, Dies at 70". NPR. 18 January 2017. Retrieved 5 August 2023.
  4. ^ "William Onyeabor: Fantastic Man". www.nowness.com.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Beta, Andy (12 December 2014). "Reviews: William Onyeabor Box Set". Retrieved 19 January 2017.
  6. ^ "William Onyeabor". The Quietus.
  7. ^ Donohue, John (5 May 2014). "Doctor Who". The New Yorker. p. 16. Retrieved 5 January 2021.
  8. ^ Pareles, Jon (13 February 2005). "The Temptations of the Power Ballad". The New York Times. Retrieved 27 July 2010.
  9. ^ Barclay, Michael (25 August 2005). "A whole new beginning; New New Pornographers, no coup for Trews and some funky good times". The Record. Retrieved 27 July 2010.
  10. ^ Kara, Scott (22 May 2009). "Various – Nigeria 70". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 27 July 2010.
  11. ^ a b c d e f Lynskey, Dorian (18 January 2017). "William Onyeabor: one of music's most insoluble puzzles to the end". theguardian.com. Retrieved 18 January 2017.
  12. ^ "A William Onyeabor Experience", Rough Trade Records. Retrieved 11 October 2013
  13. ^ "Who is William Onyeabor?", Luaka Bop Records. Retrieved 11 October 2013
  14. ^ Fantastic Man – A Film About William Onyeabor. Retrieved 19 March 2014
  15. ^ "RIP William Onyeabor". David Byrne. 18 January 2017.
  16. ^ Ratliff, Ben (4 May 2014). "The Songs of William Onyeabor, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music". New York Times. Retrieved 7 May 2014.
  17. ^ Empire, Kitty (23 August 2015). "Sunn O))); Atomic Bomb! review – cacophony in the key of ))) major". theguardian.com. Retrieved 18 January 2017.
  18. ^ Campbell, Mikey (9 May 2018). "Apple wins ADC award for 'Barbers' iPhone 7 Plus ad, named Brand of the Year". AppleInsider. Archived from the original on 17 August 2022. Retrieved 23 May 2023.
  19. ^ "H&M TV Spot, 'Back to School: Bus Runway' Song by William Onyeabor". iSpot.tv. 13 July 2023. Retrieved 26 July 2023.
  20. ^ "Exclusive: Lauren chats to William Onyeabor Parts 1 & 2". BBC. Retrieved 15 December 2014.
  21. ^ Alake, Motolani (28 January 2022). "Legendary William Onyeabor's son, Charles Onyeabor sees his song hit No. 12 on Spotify's top 100". Pulse.ng. Retrieved 3 December 2023.
  22. ^ "Legendary Nigerian musician, William Onyeabor dies at 72". Archived from the original on 6 July 2017.
  23. ^ a b Rubin, Mike (15 November 2013). "An Elusive Mystery Man of Music". The New York Times. Retrieved 19 January 2017.
  24. ^ "Who is William Onyeabor? Tracklist". williamonyeabor.com. Retrieved 19 January 2017.
  25. ^ "William Onyeabor Crashes in Love – Volume 2". Rough Trade Records. Archived from the original on 31 January 2017. Retrieved 14 October 2021.

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