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R.I.P. William Onyeabor, Nigerian funk pioneer, has died at the age of 70

on January 18, 2017, 10:20am

Influential Nigerian funk musician William Onyeabor died Monday at the age of 70.

According to a statement posted to his Facebook page, Onyeabor died peacefully in his sleep following a brief illness.

Onyeabor is credited with pioneering a futuristic brand of afro-funk music that was heavily rhythmic and synthesized in style, featuring politically charged lyrics decrying war and oppression. Between 1977 and 1985, he composed nine albums, which he recorded, pressed, and printed himself at his personal pressing plant in southeast Nigeria.

In 1985, Onyeabor became a born-again Christian and all but abandoned his music career.

Two decades later, however, Onyeabor’s catalog saw renewed interest thanks to Who Is William Onyeabor?, an authorized compilation album organized by Talking Heads’ David Byrnes. To support the release, Byrne also formed a touring supergroup called Atomic Bomb! Band, which played a series of concerts and music festivals. The likes of Damon Albarn, Dev Hynes, Hot Chip’s Alexis Taylor, and LCD Soundsystem’s Pat Mahoney all joined Atomic Bomb! Band on stage over the course of their tour.

In a rare interview conducted in 2014, Onyeabor told The New Yorker, “I did study so many things, but they have nothing to do with my natural talent, because you don’t study talent. Talent comes from God.”

Listen to some of Onyeabor’s work below, plus watch the Atomic Bomb! Band perform “Fantastic Man” on Jimmy Fallon in 2015.

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