Who is William Onyeabor? The short answer is nobody really knows. Despite being one of the most praised characters of the early West-African funk scene and an often mentioned inspiration to modern artists spanning Hot Chip, Caribou, and Gorillaz, surprisingly little is known about the Nigerian producer and synth instrumentalist. Looking to the internet for answers we find a jungle of colourful, yet conflicting biographies to choose from. There are those who talk of his early student days in the Soviet Union, whilst other claim he once studied law at Oxford University. Symptomatically, not even his year of birth is known for certain. 30-odd years after the release of his first record Luaka Bop, a New York label, attempted to track him down in an effort to obtain his blessing for a new compilation of his early pioneering work. They were perplexed by the man they found. Onyeabor had seen the light as a re-born Christian, and on a scratchy phone connection from his home in Nigeria he refused to talk of anything but Jesus…
Manuscripts don’t burn and apparently the same applies to late-seventies records of psychedelic afro funk. Recently, years after the first encounter, Luaka Bop finally released the compilation ‘World Psychedelic classics 5: Who is William Onyeabor?’ that is now the live repertoire of the newly formed super group Atomic Bomb! Band starring Ahmed Gallab, his band and a series of surprising features comprising Alexis Taylor, Money Mark, Jas Walton, Pat Mahoney and the Roskilde show-stopper Damon Albarn.
The Atomic Bomb was scheduled to blow up Roskilde’s Arena Stage last friday for a late night performance and few must have known what was coming. Just thirty minutes before the show was about to start I found my place by the front fence together with a handful of some very mature and utterly funky-looking people who seemed to be in the know. “This is going to be one of the surprises. Could be the act of the year.”. Others were speculating that David Byrne would join the set later, and though he didn’t my new friend was right - this was something else.
Band director Ahmed Gallab wore the Onyeabor trademark, the quaint black cowboy hat and from his fortress of synths he was joined by some quite remarkable people. Alexis Taylor from Hot Chip wearing a psychedelic bucket hat sang the lyrics of ‘Good Name’ as Money Mark, producer of the Beastie Boys, was ‘comping on his vintage Casio synthesizer. It was nothing less than incredibly funky and very, very trippy. The audience was buzzing. Who might join the stage next? Damon Albarn of course. The crowds went mental, and from that moment on everyone knew this was the time and place to be.
Atomic Bomb! Band was a celebration of another world and it was a cadeau to Roskilde that so many of the great Onyeabor disciples were able to make it. Unquestionably the best Roskilde performance anno 2014.
- Hans Christian Gregersen