Ibibio Sound Machine

The Boileroom, Guildford.

Ibibio Sound Machine

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“Music is a universal language, but spoken language can help
you think about what makes you emotional, what makes you
feel certain feelings, what you want to see in the world,” says
Eno Williams, frontwoman of Ibibio Sound Machine. When
Williams uses both English and the Nigerian language from
which her band’s name is derived for their dazzling new album
Doko Mien, the group somehow produces a world of both
entrancing specificity and comforting universality. A language
entirely of their own.


Long lauded for their jubilant, explosive live shows,
Ibibio Sound Machine fully capture that energy and
communication on Doko Mien, the follow-up to their Merge
debut Uyai. In a glowing piece in the New York Times, those
songs were praised for following “in the tradition of much
African music, [making] themselves the conscience of a
community.” By pulsing the mystic shapes of Williams’ lines
through further inventive, glittering collages of genre, Ibibio
Sound Machine crack apart the horizon separating cultures,
between nature and technology, between joy and pain,
between tradition and future.


That propensity for duality and paradox seems common in
people whose lives span continents. Williams was born in
the UK but grew up in Nigeria, always steeped in her family
heritage. She obsessed over West African electronic music,
highlife, and the like, but was equally empowered by Western
genres such as post-punk, disco, and funk. The London octet
have proudly enveloped themselves in that maximalist quilt
since their 2013 formation.


Though it can often bring with it news of stress and
uncertainty, the modern world further brings all these
disparate traditions into connection. “Everyone has
everything now,” says multi-instrumentalist Max Grunhard.
“Everyone has immediate access to every genre, picking things
up from everywhere—like magpies.”

And while they haven’t
suddenly left their African roots behind, Doko Mien does find increased representation of English lyrics in the ratio.
The infectious emotionality of the Ibibio lyrics remains—
whether you literally understood a syllable. But now Williams
pushes the inclusivity, drawing listeners deeper into the
bittersweet love of “I Need You to Be Sweet Like Sugar (Nnge
Nte Suka)” and the comforting arms of “I Will Run.” The mixture
burns brightest on “Tell Me (Doko Mien),” disco beats colliding
with polyrhythm and pizzicato guitar, Williams soaring
between bursts of royal horns.


By directly sharing more universal lyrics, Doko Mien reaches
for grander heights, and feels more anthemic as a result. “We
wanted to give people a reason to sing along, to find their
soundtrack every day,” Williams says. “We wanted everyone to
feel as if they’re part of the music as well.” Late album highlight
“Guess We Found a Way” addresses the change with a coy
smile. “Guess we found a way to speak to you/ Guess we found
a way to say what’s true/ To say what’s real,” Williams coos
over glistening chains of reverberant synth and diamond-dust
percussion, before returning to Ibibio in the chorus. In the end,
Alfred Bannerman’s swank guitar solo could be considered a
linguistic draw in its own right, evocative and rippling.


Perhaps the best example of the group’s ability to convey meaning
across language and tradition, to blend past and future into a
singular present, comes on “She Work Very Hard.” The traditional
Ibibio folk tale bobs over the waves of tuned percussion, chunky
synth, and pinprick highlife-esque guitar, while Jose Joyette’s
drums and Derrick McIntyre’s bass funk groove bring everyone
to the dance floor.

“These stories won’t be forgotten. Feel the
music: It speaks to everybody,” Williams says. “We can travel
back in time together, while convening on a futuristic, present
tense. We hope that we can give people that reason to wake up,
that one song to sing and dance and be happy.”

Doko Mien: Tell me everything. On their new album, Ibibio Sound
Machine provide the perfect companion, ready to digest as
much as possible and then further unfurl beauty and hope. They
remember and honor the past and charge forward toward the
future, all while intensely expanding the present.