These days the most obscure vinyl can be owned with a couple of mouse clicks, and practically every band that has ever existed is reunited and touring heavily, so it’s pleasing to learn that there’s still a little mystery out there.
It took David Byrne’s Luaka Bop label five years to find Nigerian musician William Onyeabor and secure his permission to reissue some of the extraordinary electro-funk that he self-released between 1978 and 1985.
That was the end of the reclusive born-again Christian’s involvement. He did not appear at this concert in his honour, the first-ever live performance of his songs, but fans including Damon Albarn, Bloc Party’s Kele Okereke and Alexis Taylor of Hot Chip did.
A large band led by a passionate Ahmed Gallab included two drummers and a percussionist, hyperactive keyboard wizard Money Mark and the Lijadu Sisters, twins from the afrobeat scene who they said hadn’t been on stage in 30 years. Songs such as Why Go to War and Good Name, somewhat tinny on record, became rousing, heavy grooves here.
Even Jonny Lam’s guitar was a percussion instrument, keeping the relentless rhythms going while up to four vintage keyboards squealed and zapped over the top.
Albarn strutting over to the Lidajus to sing “Tell me how I look?” (response: “You look so good… fantastic man”) on Fantastic Man was a treat.
Unlike Sixto Rodriguez, who was recently lifted from obscurity to play packed houses, this looks like the closest Onyeabor’s story will get to a happy ending. Shame he missed it, for it was a total joy.