Release Date: Apr 1, 2014
Record label: Soundway
Genre(s): Electronic, Electronica, International, West African, African Traditions, Afro-Pop, Nigerian
Soundway's made its name as one of the finest reissue labels for fans of unheralded vintage music from Africa and the Tropical Belt. Lately, it's been adding new acts to its roster, such as Chico Mann, KonKoma and Family Atlantica, that embody its universal groove aesthetic. Add to that list London's Ibibio Sound Machine.Fronted by British-Nigerian vocalist Eno Williams, who sings entirely in Ibibio (the native language of the Ibibio people of South-Eastern Nigeria), this eight-piece rocks an infectious mix of highlife, disco, funk and psychedelic soul.
The Soundway label has specialised in reviving great but rare vintage tracks from West Africa that had previously only been released on vinyl, but it is now also becoming known for adventurous new music. Ibibio Sound System are a British-based band who specialise in updating African highlife, Afro-beat and gospel styles, which are mixed in with electronics and echoes of African psychedelia. Led by British/Nigerian singer Eno Williams, whose songs are based around folk stories from southeast Nigeria, this is an eight-piece band that veers intriguingly between the contemporary and echoes of the 70s and 80s.
The self-titled debut by Ibibo Sound Machine is quite literally unlike any other African-electronic music fusion project. The group is fronted by Eno Williams, a London-born singer of southeastern Nigerian (Ibibo) descent. DJs and producers Max Grunhard, Leon Brichard, and Benji Bouton heard Williams and built a band around her. They created a slew of grooves for that voice based on the West African highlife, funk, and disco they all loved, then enlisted Ghanian guitarist Alfred "Kari" Bannerman of Konkoma, Tony Hayden and Scott Bayliss on synths and horns, and Brazilian master percussionist Anselmo Netto to illustrate the rhythms and vocals.
This is an album that came out of a language. At least that’s what Eno Willliams told Afropop when they interviewed her in March. “We had spoken about that fact that the language had been very little documented, musically, and that it would be interesting to try using that as a starting point,” she said. The language was Ibibio from southeast Nigeria.
Ibibio Sound Machine may look like the new Peaches from the electroclash-saluting image of singer Eno Williams on their debut album cover, but they’re actually a producer collective. Trading in full-fat funk, they make uplifting West African beats and Afro-soul jams. Along with Williams’s intriguing folk stories sung in her mother’s native Nigerian Ibibio, these flavours infuse one endless, loosely psychedelic jazz noodle of a debut album.
While Soundway made its name with countless seminal reissues of long-forgotten nuggets of stellar African and Latin American music from last century, the label's also gradually garnered a roster of bands producing music that - while still entrenched in various disparate heritages - continually update and modernise these styles into a sort of new global pop music. Ibibio Sound Machine are the newest addition, bringing together Ghanaian highlife with disco, analogue synths, funky beats and occasional diversions into near-gospel territory. The album's artwork sums up the group's idiosyncratic mix, with lead vocalist and focal point - Nigerian-British vocalist Eno Williams - adorning in colourful full Afro-funk garb, synthesiser purposefully underarm, and a stern expression that makes it clear just how seriously this party's meant to be taken.