Read David Byrne’s Letter Remembering Nigerian Synth-Funk Pioneer William Onyeabor

“Wherever he’s gone, it’s sure to be a place with a lot of heart and some killer grooves.”

January 18, 2017

Rest in Peace, William Onyeabor (March 26, 1946 - January 16, 2017). It is with incredibly heavy hearts that we have to announce that the great Nigerian business leader and mythic music pioneer William Onyeabor has passed away at the age of 70. He died peacefully in his sleep following a brief illness, at his home in Enugu, Nigeria. An extraordinary artist, businessman and visionary, Mr. Onyeabor composed and self-released 9 brilliant albums of groundbreaking electronic-funk from 1977-1985, which he recorded, pressed and printed at Wilfilms Limited—his personal pressing plant in southeast Nigeria. As one of the absolutely smartest people we ever encountered—William Onyeabor was always in charge, whatever the situation may be. As can be heard in many of his songs, he looked at the world from a bird's eye view. He watched American, Chinese and European news simultaneously, so he could learn about the different points of view from around the world. In his later years, he was still conducting business as usual. Whenever we visited him in Nigeria, he welcomed us warmly into his home. Whether it be at his palace outside of Enugu or via crackly phone lines to America, he always made us laugh. As is also very evident in his songwriting—another example of his true intellect and originality—he had the greatest sense of humor. His life and accomplishments will never cease to astonish us. More than anything, and still to this very day, his music continues to live on—nearly 40 years after it was originally released. Chief William Ezechukwu Onyeabor is survived by his wife, children, and four grandchildren. We would like to send our deepest condolences to his family and thank each and every one of you who has helped share the love for his music around the world. In the short and wonderfully intense nine years that we came to know him, he changed our lives in many ways. If he hasn't yet, we hope he will affect you too, one day. Love, Eric, Paul & Yale, Luaka Bop

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William Onyeabor, the mysterious, mythic Nigerian synth-funk pioneer, died in his sleep Tuesday morning, as confirmed in a touching, lengthy statement from Luaka Bop.


David Byrne, who helped found the label and helmed the star-studded, traveling Onyeabor tribute act Atomic Bomb, penned a brief letter today remembering the enigmatic musician.

"His surprising (no other African musician was using synthesizers then) recordings, his conscious lyrics and messages and his entrepreneurial ambitions were all way ahead of their time," Byrne wrote in the note.

Byrne also remembered working with Luaka Bop on reissuing his material for The Love is a Real Thing compilation, and looked back fondly on his participation in the Atomic Bomb project. "Those shows were some of the best times I've ever had on stage," he writes. "Onyeabor's music came to life—it was fresh and transcendent. Everyone felt it. We played it, but he created it.

At the end, he added, "Wherever he's gone, it's sure to be a place with a lot of heart and some killer grooves. Rest In Peace." Read the full letter here.

Read David Byrne’s Letter Remembering Nigerian Synth-Funk Pioneer William Onyeabor