Thoughts William in a white suit

Published on January 20th, 2017 | by Hondo

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9 great moments in William Onyeabor’s music that had nothing to do with synthesizers – and one that kinda sorta did

1. The insistent guitar in ‘Why Go To War?’

No one is sure if it was Emma Ikediashi or Justin Tchatchoua who was responsible for the nagging guitar riff that underlines the entirety of ‘Why Go To War.’ Whoever it was,  the song would lack urgency without it. It’s the six-string equivalent of someone jabbing their finger your in the chest, demanding an answer.

2. The fat sax in ‘Something You Will Never Forget’

William had some dark and sombre wisdom to share in this song. And what better way to convey the indiscriminate nature of death than with the parping melancholia of George Orakpor on sax?

3. The call and response with Linda Menakaya and Dorothy Ipere in ‘Fantastic Man’

One of the highlights of the gig put on by the Atomic Bomb Band at the Barbican was their playful version of ‘Fantastic Man’. Damon Albarn took on the role of the fantastic man, looking for praise, the Lijadu Sisters, the reluctant lovers, used to getting praise not giving it. It was a reminder of the joyful energy of this song and how William Onyeabor’s backing singers, Linda Menakaya and Dorothy Ipere, got the mood and tone just right.

4. The searing guitar break in ‘Good Name’

Buried deep in the mix, under a wall of synths, Emma ‘Tex’ Ikediashi lays down some seriously scorching guitar breaks in ‘Good Name’. Have a close listen at 3:30, 4.50, 5:40, 7:35 and 8:50. The former Comrade was the best guitarist in Unegu, possibly even Nigeria.

5. The dancing truck driver in the original video for ‘When The Going Is Smooth And Good’

Made for Nigerian TV and only shown a few times, the original film clip for ‘When The Going Is Smooth And Good’ is a lost treasure. Only snippets survive, the longest bit featuring in the ‘Fantastic Man’ documentary about William Onyeabor. Fast forward to 23:49 for the appearance of the dancing, shirtless truck driver. Priceless.

6. The sinuous bass line in ‘Something You Will Never Forget’

Who knew that some day, lying dead would be so sinuous and funky. Willy N’For on bass, that’s who.

7. He wrote a song about ‘Hypertension’ while wearing a Mexican sombrero

‘Nuff said.

8. He called out America, Russia and China in ‘Better Change Your Mind’

Someone had to.

9. William’s free form vocals in ‘The Way To Win Your Love’

William Onyeabor wasn’t really renowned for his vocals, but occasionally he let loose. Check out the crazy scat(ish) vocals on ‘The Way To Win Your Love’, the opening track of ‘Body and Soul’. Smooth, just like the white suit he’s rocking on the cover.

10. The cover of ‘Anything You Sow’

William Onyeabor on synth

OK. This one has everything to do with synthesizers.

 

William Onyeabor 26 March, 1946 – 16 January, 2017. RIP, big man.

 

* A big thanks to Uchenna Ikonne, label boss at Comb & Razor and undisputed William Onyeabor guru for supplying the names of the artists who played on William’s records

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About the Author

My name is Peter Moore and I'm an author by trade. I’m not a purist. I’m not an expert. But I love all kinds of African music. If it moves me – or makes me want to move – I’ll write about it here.



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