For a new generation of hip music lovers permanently on the look out for a chance of musical oneupmanship, this anonymity was a blessing—Onyeabor was hidden in plain sight, behind his body of work, with enough mystery around him for people to construct their own myths. He disappeared behind the Iron Curtain to go to film school, or to London to study law. He had renounced music for Christianity. Some of it was true, most of it wasn’t, depending on who you ask, and on what day.

When David Byrne’s Luaka Bop label went to find him a few years ago, the head of the label came away none the wiser, but with permission to reissue some of his best music on their fantastic Who Is William Onyeabor? compilation – changing the title at the last minute from This Is William Onyeabor to reflect some of the intrigue surrounding the reclusive musician.

The mark of a truly great compilation is when it is viewed as an LP itself. Who Is William Onyeabor? did that, bringing a 70’s enigma to a 90s audience and shining a light on a man. Although he never commented on his new found attention, we can only hope that this fantastic man found some satisfaction on having one more moment in the sun, before disappearing into the shadows for good, just two years later.

It’s hard to know how well the album did in actual sales, but the standing of the man and the weight of the compilation can be measured by the caliber of musicians who fell over themselves to be included in the tribute concerts that took place.

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