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William Onyeabor has died

The Nigerian musician rediscovered by Luaka Bop’s Who Is William Onyeabor? compilation has died aged 70

William Ezechukwu Onyeabor has died, Luaka Bop has announced 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,” states the label. “He died peacefully in his sleep following a brief illness, at his home in Enugu, Nigeria.

“For people in his hometown of Enugu, Nigeria,” its Facebook post continues, “Mr Onyeabor was simply referred to as ‘The Chief’. He was known for having created many opportunities for the people in his community.”

Onyeabor was born on 26 March1946. He recorded and released nine albums between 1977–85 at Wilfilms Limited, his own pressing plant in Enugu, southeast Nigeria. The plant is also noted for pressing Livy Ekemezie’s 1983 funk set Friday Night, as well as for housing its own Wilfilms label. As a musician and businessman, Onyeabor travelled the world to study record manufacturing set-ups. However he also worked in many other fields – for example, he received the West African Industrialist Of The Year award for opening a flour and food processing business, among other ventures. He was also president of Enugu's Musician's Union, and chairman of the city's local football team Enugu Rangers.

That Onyeabor was an elusive character led to many speculations as to what he had done throughout his career. He stopped making music when he became a Born Again Christian, and for many years he refused any interview requests that came his way. In 2013 Luaka Bop released the well-received Who Is William Onyeabor? anthology compiled by musicologist and researcher Uchenna Ikonne. Julian Cowley described that release as a “mildly eccentric blend of synthesized soul and low-slung funk”, and as clearing up any questions as to who Onyeabor actually was. That album was followed by the film documentary Fantastic Man (named after a track on his 1979 album Tomorrow) and a tour of live shows that featured over 50 guests.

You can hear “When The Going Is Smooth And Good” from Anything You Sow (1985), which Luaka Bop noted as one of Onyeabor's most successful songs.

William Onyeabor is survived by his wife, children and four grandchildren.