On a wet, shitty Monday I generally tend to try and find something interesting and new to listen to. And this Monday is no exception so I’m reaching for William Onyeabor.
This is when the question of “when is new not new?” comes into play. Onyeabor (a bit like Francois Bebey who we’ve talked about before) is old, but his music is utterly new to all of us.
Actually this isn’t strictly true because a while back Devendra Barnhart started talking about Onyeabor and raving about this track of catchy afrobeat pop with electronics called “Atom Bomb”. With the wonders of YouTube I could find the tune and Devendra was right – it did stick in the mind like an odd (& enjoyable) irritation. You wouldn’t expect less because Devendra is often right and what he recommends is worth a listen (point also to Vashti Bunyan and Ted Lucas as other Devendra finds). And that reminded me I’d heard of him before when a track called “Better Change Your Mind” from an old Luaka Bop compilation of “funky, fuzzy sounds” from Africa.
But beyond that not much to find. And no information to speak of.
So the release of “Who Is William Onyeabor?” on Luaka Bop (in the same series that gave us the beautiful Shuggie Otis compilation and rediscovered his magic) is a matter of joy. 8 fabulous moments of joy. And being perfect for bringing the sunshine in, its good for a wet day so it’s not off my Monday turntable.
The music doesn’t feel old because I (we/ you?) haven’t heard it before, and because the music sounds oddly “now” with its weirdly modern ancient analogue synths and its afrobeat groves and chants. In places it sounds like nu disco; there are breakbeat moments; in places like Fela, in places even something the Foals might have liked to try. And there’s some wicked wah wah guitar there too on the killer “Why Go To War”.
For me, it makes it better that mystery surrounds the totally silent maestro, and that he might even have been a film student in Soviet Russia and he definitely is a crowned high prince of his village. And that he definitely doesn’t want to talk about this bit of his past, however much we all love it.
If I were you I’d just buy this one and make your Monday happier.