ibibio sound machine is bringing afro-disco back

January 8, 2019

Since bursting onto the scene in 2013-14, Ibibio Sound Machine has been championing the kind of West African disco and funk that made Lagos burn in the mid-1970s. Fronted by London-born Nigerian singer Eno Williams and Ghanaian guitarist Alfred “Kari” Bannerman, the London group’s vibe is a constant clash of African and electronic elements, inspired in equal measure by that golden era and by modern post-punk and electro. Manifestations of such cross-generational and -continental fusions abound — whether in the way the highlife horn-lines interact with contemporary synths, or in the mix of the voices, with Williams singing in both English and Ibibio, the home language of the southern Nigerian state of Akwa Ibom.

“Doko Mien,” the first single and title-track from the group’s new album, translates as “Tell Me” in Ibibio, and sounds like the lost child of some early-‘80s, New York session produced by Lisa Lisa’s Cult Jam, or by Gloria Estefan’s old Miami crew, who in fact inspired this Sound Machine’s name. The electronic percussion and the skittering backbeat are pure galloping freestyle, but when the horns kick in, Fela’s unmistakable influence turns the beat around. Throughout, Williams and the group make the connections between dialects — both, the ones that convey words and the ones that arrange the notes and rhythms — all of which  contribute to a singular dancefloor. The important purpose they serve is guiding cultural understandings.  

Or as Williams herself says, “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.”

Ibibio Sound Machine’s Doko Mien is out on March 22nd on Merge Records.