William Onyeabor ‘Who is William Onyeabor?’ (Luaka Bop) 4/5

william-onyeaborAs the title suggests, Nigerian singer-songwriter William Onyeabor is something of a mystery to the outside world, but thanks to the continuing pioneering efforts of David Byrne’s enterprising Luka Bop label, that may just be about to change. Afro-funk and its psychedelic offshoots have been a somewhat marginalised sub-genre in the world roots field and that is a great pity since it is often in a fusion of styles that something truly original can surface. The music dates from the late 1970s and especially the 1980s and this is reflected in the instrumentation. There are for example hints of Soft Cell on the early 1980s electronica of ‘Good name’.
Earthier funk grooves with rhythm guitar and highly distinctive keyboards abound on the opener ‘Body and soul’ which is largely instrumental with collective female chants. A winner of a tune is the mid-paced groover ‘Atomic bomb’ which features some subtle keyboards and vocals and the subject matter is eclectic in the extreme, but totally captivating. Socio-political dimensions are a feature of Onyeabor’s lyrics and ‘Why go to war?’ makes the case most cogently for a more peaceful outlook on life. Of particular note with this issue are the strikingly attractive graphics of the original art contained in the informative sleeve notes by Vivian Goldman that help the reader to unearth information on Onyeabor’s life. A good deal of effort has gone into ensuring this re-issue is informative and it shows. It is entirely fitting that a singer who is extremely difficult to categorise should be placed on the Luaka Bop label and he fits comfortably alongside the likes of Susana Baca, Tim Maia andTom Zé.  Tim Stenhouse