The cover for William Onyeabor’s 1985 album Anything You Sow is a music producer’s fantasy. Outfitted in a sharp suit and tie with a cowboy hat, Onyeabor sits surrounded by a plethora of synthesizers, speakers, microphones, recording decks and control panels in a studio with a giant smile on his face. Unfortunately to his fans, this would be eighth and final album of music Onyeabor would ever create again. Soon after, he converted to Christianity and never spoke of his musical past again before passing away on January 16, 2017 at age 70.
Onyeabor’s contributions to Nigeria and Africa’s music scenes are undeniable. His influence also touched modern artists such the Talking Heads, the Beastie Boys, Blur, Gorillaz, Blood Orange, Hot Chip and Four Tet. His songs can often clock-in around 10 minutes in length, slowly beginning with a set loop of sounds. As the songs progress, Onyeabor sprinkles in a new wrinkle and continues to let the beat build before fading into the atmosphere.
Before his death, Onyeabor’s music experienced a resurgence, and he had absolutely nothing to do with it. Vice Media created a documentary about the Nigerian synth king entitled Fantastic Man in 2014, which chronicles his shadowy past and attempted to connect with him to speak about his music (no spoilers, but guess how that went?).
Nowadays, Onyeabor’s albums are difficult to come by and can command a high-price tag. A great option to own some of Onyeabor’s music is Luaka Pop’s 2013 release Who Is William Onyeabor?, which features nine of his hits including “Atomic Bomb,” “Body and Soul” and “Fantastic Man.” Although created in the 1970s and 80s, Onyeabor’s music effortlessly slides into the current realm of sound. Unfortunately, we aren’t able to directly connect with Onyeabor anymore, but through his music the synth king gives listeners a smile as big as his own.