William Onyeabor, the Nigerian funk artist who, after self-releasing a wellspring of albums from 1977 to 1985, achieved worldwide acclaim nearly 30 years after he permanently left the music industry, died Monday following a brief illness in his home in Enugu, Nigeria. He was 70.
David Byrne's Luaka Bop label, which reissued Onyeabor's music in recent years, announced the musician's death on Facebook.
"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," the label wrote in a statement.
"An extraordinary artist, businessman and visionary, Mr. Onyeabor composed and self-released nine 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."
Onyeabor's rhythmic, synth-driven funk LPs – recorded in a studio he constructed featuring then-state-of-the-art equipment learned from "record manufacturing techniques" in Stockholm, Sweden – were successful in the artist's native Nigeria but failed to make an impact outside the African country.
It wasn't until his tracks like "Better Change Your Mind" and "Atomic Bomb" appeared on 2010s compilations of Seventies Nigerian music that Onyeabor's music found an international audience. By that time, however, Onyeabor had abandoned his recording career, becoming a businessman and a born-again Christian in his native Nigeria.
William Onyeabor - "Atomic Bomb"