Song of the Week – Atomic Bomb, William Onyeabor


A few years ago a popular documentary was released called Searching for Sugarman. It told the story of an American musician named Sixto Rodriguez who was very popular in South Africa. The Detroit based Rodriguez — whose signature song was called “Sugar Man” — released a couple of albums in the early 70s that received little recognition before he retired from music. In South Africa he was rumored dead but some fans decided to try to find him to determine if the rumor was true. The rest is history.

Another artist, William Onyeabor, has a story with similarities to Rodriguez. The Nigerian born Onyeabor released a series of serious funk records between the mid 70s to mid 80s. His eight albums languished in obscurity after Onyeabor left the music industry and became a devoted born again Christian. A parallel with Rodriguez is that his fans were left with little idea where he was or how to reach him.

In 2013, Talking Head David Byrne secured the rights to reissue some of Onyeabor’s music on his Luaka Bop label on a compilation called Who is William Onyeabor?. That’s where I discovered today’s SotW, “Atomic Bomb.”

The song instantly finds a groove that ambles along for its full 8 minutes. At various points along the way it is punctuated with tastful guitar licks and the early synthesizer noodlings that Onyeabor was famous for – and would later be an important ingredient that Bernie Worrell brought to Stop Making Sense era Talking Heads music. I pay no attention to the mildly suggestive lyrics, but I do like the sound of the background singers’ call and response as well as their “atomic bomb” chant in the chorus.

A loose collective of alt rock artists formed in 2014 to perform Onyeabor’s music under the name Atomic Bomb. According to Wikipedia the group consists of:

“… music director Ahmed Gallab and his band Sinkane (composed of Jason Trammell on drums, Ish Montgomery on bass and Jonny Lam on guitar), Alexis Taylor (of Hot Chip), Pat Mahoney (of LCD Soundsystem), Money Mark (of the Beastie Boys) Lekan Babalola and Jas Walton (of Antibalas).

The group has also featured special guests including David Byrne (of Talking Heads) Damon Albarn (of Blur), the Lijadu Sisters, Pharoah Sanders, Jamie Lidell, Joshua Redman, Kele Okereke (of Bloc Party), Luke Jenner (of The Rapture), Ghostpoet, Dev Hynes (aka Blood Orange / Lightspeed Champion), Wally DeBacker (Gotye), Young Fathers, Mahotella Queens, Andrew Ashong, Zap Mama, Charles Lloyd, Cheikh Lô, Peaking Lights, David Murray, Para One, Mike Floss, Moses Sumney, Sarah Jones, and Green Gartside.

Enjoy… until next week.

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