The concept behind the compilation Who Is William Onyeabor? echoes Searching for Sugar Man, the documentary about South African fans tracking down a “mysterious” US singer-songwriter. In this case the direction of traffic is reversed, with David Byrne’s US record label Luaka Bop on a quest to locate Nigerian musician William Onyeabor, who scored several hits in his homeland in the 1980s before quitting music.
As with Searching for Sugar Man – in which the fans’ extravagant fantasies of their hero’s fate turn out to be comically wrong – Onyeabor’s present situation, living in eastern Nigeria having discovered evangelical Christianity, isn’t particularly compelling. More interesting is the music, compiled here for the first time for a non-Nigerian audience.
The tracks are sprawling funk jams, tightly played but lavish in length; through them winds the enticing sound of Onyeabor’s Moog synthesiser, performing catchy vamps (“Let’s Fall in Love”) and spacey solos (“Atomic Bomb”).
Who Is William Onyeabor?