The Qobuz Ideal Discography
Luaka Bop never gives up. First, the fantastic Tim Maia volume in the World Psychedelic Classics series issued in 2012, was a decade in the making. Assembling the killer nine-track Who Is William Onyeabor? in 2013 proved to be much more difficult, though it only took three years. The amazing journey to that record and ultimately this box set is told exhaustively in one of three essays in the accompanying booklet in this box. Pioneering electronic dance music aside, Onyeabor is enigmatic, intentionally mysterious, and often difficult to approach. While he didn't legally impede the creation of this set, he did very little to assist. Amazingly, at the end of the day, little more is known about Onyeabor now than when Luaka Bop started compiling this discography: his methods, who else worked with him (other than his producer), where he got the money to assemble the gear, create a studio, or the means to issue these eight records (the first of which, Crashes in Love, is in two different versions, making nine discs altogether) on his Wilfilms label between 1977-1985. Ultimately for the listener, it matters little. Onyeabor's music is unlike anything else to come out of Africa before or since, though he was obviously influenced by the folk music of his region, American R&B, psychedelic funk, Kraftwerk, and disco -- what he came up with defies categorization except for the fact that it is irresistible to any human who still has blood pumping in his or her veins. From the popping, funky drum break, horns, and snaky guitars that introduce the spooky keyboard line on "Something You Will Never Forget" from his debut, Crashes in Love, it's an intoxicating, labyrinthine journey. It continues on the bubbling icy soul of "Beautiful Baby" with its outer space synth interludes, yet drives the prophetic title track from Atomic Bomb that has moments that could have come from either of Brian Eno's first two solo albums. Of all the albums in this set, this is one that reaches the farthest yet locks the tightest. But there is so much more. On albums such as Tomorrow and Hypertension, the deeply sensual and the socio-political are intertwined as banks and banks of synths bridge their languages. Good Name contains only two side-long cuts careening in their hyper-driven, futuristic space drive (and no, they owe nothing to Fela's Afrobeat), and are as strange and compulsively listenable now as they were upon release. The raw aspect of the recording technology adds to their funky alien-ness. The final album, Anything You Sow, combines many more folk elements as well as traces of African gospel, but there is nothing in the rest of the Christian music canon that even gets close to the visionary electronicism in "When the Going Is Smooth and Good" or "Everyday." This box is simultaneously a testament to Onyeabor's musical and sonic genius, and Luaka Bop's commitment to excellence.
© Thom Jurek /TiVo