'Who Is William Onyeabor?': A Hypnotic Sermon Of Synth

'Who Is William Onyeabor?' officially drops via Luaka Bop 10/29.

A listen to the immaculate collection of tracks that is Who is William Onyeabor?— a five year undertaking on the part of the New York-based Luaka Bop label — has just as many faces as the stories of its mysterious maker, Nigerian electro-funk originator William Onyeabor. Dance floor urges predominate for a whole 73 minutes of instinctive funk— a feel it deep inside yet rattle your bones kind of synth.

An intergalactic welcoming on opener "Body and Soul" introduces listeners to fresh sounds thirty years after the fact. Onyeabor is a welcomed paradox of unexplored territory for young ears from a musical front, yet still very much a historical document lyric-wise. "Why go to war when you know there should be peace?" are words that first come to mind when placing Onyeabor's music in the context of the 1970s, not just in Nigeria but also international relations at large. NPR already touched on the cold war sexual metaphors inherent on "Atomic Bomb."

But body moving and politics aside, it's the hypnotic undertones behind each track that account for why William Onyeabor's is a music that could easily remain on repeat hours on end, a subconscious spirituality through divinely smooth sounds and call-and-response hooks, a sermon of synth. Perhaps Mr. Onyeabor has crafted an entire religion separate from the one he's devoted his life to.

Listen to Who Is William Onyeabor via NPR 'First Listen' before it drops next Tuesday, October 29th. Head to the Okayplayer shop to pre-order in either CD or vinyl format. Join us and Luaka Bop in celebrating William Onyeabor Week! worldwide beginning this Thursday, October 24th with a smooth and good time circuit which will include ten cities, almost 20 parties, and nearly 50 artists involved. RSVP here for the dates listed below.



William Onyeabor Week! Party Dates

10/24 PARIS – Le Comptoir General

With; Sofrito, Joakim, Superfly, Pilooski, Secousse

10/24 STOCKHOLM – Sodra Bar

With; Peter Morén’s Onyeaborians, Ok Star Orchestra, Tight Silk, Miriam Pemberton (Holodisc), Karl Jonas Winqvist (First Floor Power), & Gavin Maycroft (Oma333) in collaboration with Mother

10/25 LONDON – Rough Trade & After party at Ridley Road Market Bar

With; Thris & Nic (Boiler Room), DJ Fitz, Duncan Brooker (Strut, Nigeria 70), Barry’s Lounge

10/26 NEW YORK – Buka Nigerian Restaurant & After party at Doris (Brooklyn)

With; Steve Shelley (Sonic Youth), Lizzi Bougatsos (Gang Gang Dance), Tim Koh (Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti)

10/26 BERLIN – Oye Records & Humboldthain Club

With; Auntie Flo, Lee Douglas, Eli Pavel, Nomad & Vulkandance Berlin, Kalakuta Soul Soundsystem

10/29 – LOS ANGELES – No Vacancy

With; Peaking Lights, Turquoise Wisdom, Mathieu Schreyer, Hunee, Lovefingers, Secret Circuit in collaboration with Ana Calderon

10/30 TOKYO – Forestlimit

With; Daedelus, Oorutaichi, Masaaki Hara, Frosty in collboraton with

10/31 OSLO – Studio Two

With; Rune Lindbaek, VJ Arminwerx, Selectah X, Fred B

11/1 MANCHESTER – Piccadilly Records

With; Illum Sphere, Jon K in collaboration with Hoya Hoya

11/16 LAGOS– Bogobiri House

With; IKON (SDC) & Ade Fakile (Plastic People, London)


6 Samples From 'Éthiopiques' in Hip-Hop

A brief history of Ethio-jazz cultural exchange featuring songs by Nas & Damian Marley, K'naan, Madlib and more.

This article was originally published on OkayAfrica in March, 2017. We're republishing it here for our Crossroads series.

It's 2000 something. I'm holed up in my bedroom searching for samples to chop up on Fruity Loops. While deep into the free-market jungle of Amazon's suggested music section, I stumble across a compilation of Ethiopian music with faded pictures of nine guys jamming in white suit jackets. I press play on the 30 second sample.

My mind races with the opportunities these breakbeats offered a budding beat maker. Catchy organs, swinging horns, funky guitar riffs, soulful melodies and grainy and pained vocalists swoon over love lost and gained. Sung in my mother tongue—Amharic—this was a far cry from the corny synthesizer music of the 1990s that my parents played on Saturday mornings. I could actually sample this shit.

The next day, I burn a CD and pop it into my dad's car. His eyes light up when the first notes ooze out of the speakers. “Where did you get this?" He asks puzzlingly. “The internet," I respond smiling.

In the 1970s my dad was one of thousands of high school students in Addis Ababa protesting the monarchy. The protests eventually created instability which lead to a coup d'état. The monarchy was overthrown and a Marxist styled military junta composed of low ranking officers called the Derg came to power. The new regime subsequently banned music they deemed to be counter revolutionary. When the Derg came into power, Amha Eshete, a pioneering record producer and founder of Ahma Records, fled to the US and the master recordings of his label's tracks somehow ended up in a warehouse in Greece.

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