Music: Master Mix

Onye Onyemaechi spreads African rhythms

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Onye & the Messengers mix African rhythms with jazz, funk and reggae. Photo courtesy of Onye & the Messengers.

By Charlie Swanson

When master percussionist and mentor Onye Onyemaechi isn’t leading mystical journeys in the deserts of Morocco or presenting weeklong sessions on the spirituality of drumming in Munich, Germany, he leads the dynamic afrobeat band Onye & the Messengers in the North Bay, where he’s lived for the last 25 years.

Known for a dance-inducing repertoire of African rhythms blended with jazz, funk and splashes of reggae, Onye & the Messengers will be getting the crowd moving at the San Rafael Downtown Farmers’ Market on Thursday, July 13.

Born in Nigeria, Onyemaechi studied business in Boston, but ultimately chose the musical life over the corporate one in the early 1980s. “Now, my business is to make people happy, to help them be joyful in what they do so they can excel in their own development,” he says.

Onyemaechi moved to the North Bay in 1989 and founded Village Rhythms as a way to present drumming and music in a multitude of educational programs. A celebrated performing and recording artist, he takes the rich tradition of afrobeat from his native Nigeria and spreads peaceful, positive values with a worldly rhythm.

“Music is a gift to humanity,” Onyemaechi says. “Music is a way to share storytelling, culture and rites of passage.”

Made up of several seasoned Bay Area musicians, Onye & the Messengers excel at showcasing the technicality of afrobeat’s polyrhythmic sound, as well as the music’s intuitive flair.

“What I do with the band is to allow them to be free, to be available within their own creative means,” Onyemaechi says. “To let the music speak for itself.”

Onye & the Messengers, Thursday, July 13, San Rafael Downtown Farmers’ Market, 1000 Fourth St., San Rafael; 6pm; sanrafaelmarket.org.

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