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‘Atomic Bomb: The Music of William Onyeabor’ at BAM

Synth secrets: All-star lineup plays tribute to a mysterious Nigerian musician

The Brooklyn Paper
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William Onyeabor is a man of international mystery — and he makes some really stellar beats.

A group of musicians who have grown to revere the reclusive Nigerian synth composer are teaming up to pay him tribute with a massive dance party at the Brooklyn Academy of Music on May 2 and 3.

“His music is so unique and so special, and we wanted to find ways to honor it,” said Eric Welles-Nystrom, manager of record label Luaka Bop. “Everyone who is playing is a huge fan.”

The supergroup lineup for “Atomic Bomb: The Music of William Onyeabor” will include David Byrne, Money Mark, Pat Mahoney from LCD Soundsystem, Alexis Taylor of Hot Chip, Luke Jenner from the Rapture, Blood Orange, the Lijadu Sisters, and saxophonist Joshua Redman. At the show, the musicians will play Onyeabor’s groovealicious songs and add their own vocals.

“We wanted to get not only musicians who were available, but the musicians who were the most passionate about William Onyeabor’s music,” said Welles-Nystrom.

Onyeabor recorded his synth pop masterpieces from a home studio in Lagos, Nigeria, in the late 1970 and early ’80s. Through it all, he retained total control over his music and was notoriously tight-lipped about his past. Rumors swirled that he had studied film in Russia and spent some time making movies before turning to music, but no one has been able to corroborate these facts — including Onyeabor himself.

“I went to see him a few times in Nigeria and I still do not know much about him,” said Welles-Nystrom. “We would watch Christian television all day long or read from the Bible. At the end of the day, I might be able to get him to answer a few questions about business.”

Last year, Luaka Bop, the record label founded by David Byrne, finally released an album of Onyeabor’s music after several years of trying. While Onyeabor finally conceded to license his songs, he has refused to be interviewed or tell anyone details about his life.

Many of the musicians appearing at the BAM show played a similar show in London earlier this year, which Welles-Nystro said was a big success.

“We had people dancing after two songs and standing on the stairs and screaming by the end,” he said.

“Atomic Bomb: The Music of William Onyeabor” at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Peter Jay Sharp Building [30 Lafayette Ave. between Ashland Place and St. Felix Street in Fort Greene, (718) 636–4100, www.bam.org] May 2 and 3 at 8 pm. Tickets start at $35.

Reach reporter Danielle Furfaro at dfurfaro@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-2511. Follow her at twitter.com/DanielleFurfaro.
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