Album Review: Ibibio Sound Machine – Uyai [Merge Records, 3 March 2017]

Yes, Ibibio Sound Machine are back, with their hotly anticipated second album and they have returned bigger, better, rougher and tougher! It’s three years since the release of the now classic self-titled debut album and Uyai (Merge Records) doesn’t disappoint, laying down 12 tracks of synth-tinged African vibes sweeping from full on dancefloor stompers to beautifully crafted ballads all with a splattering of 70’s West African funk and disco.

Leading the eight-piece outfit and singing in both her mother’s native Ibibio, a Nigerian dialect, and English is the ever flamboyant Eno Williams. The album kicks off with the first single from the album “Give me a reason” and it heads straight into the afro-electro soundscape with 4/4 beats setting the early tempo.

The album title ‘uyai’ means “beauty” in the Ibibio language and refers to the strength and free spirit of the women in Eno’s life and tackles the stories of life—both large and small. “Give Me a Reason,” is a song about the 276 Chibok girls who were abducted in northern Nigeria in 2014 and remain missing to this day. Eno challenges, “Why should girls be denied the right to education, and why should people in general not be free to be who they want to be in their life?” On the lighter side, “The Pot is on Fire” is a food dance celebrating the “happy place” wherein the food will soon be ready. “It’s also metaphorical,” Eno writes. “Something is brewing which will soon bear fruit.”

Second up on the album is the soon to be released live favourite “The Chant (Iquo Isang)”, which along with “The Pot is on Fire” make for great call and response audience favourites in their ever more impressive live set. In fact during the time since their 2014 debut they have been forging a reputation as a high-energy live act appearing on stages such as Later… with Jools Holland, Glastonbury, Roskilde, and the BBC 6 Music Festival, as well as at iconic venues such as Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London as part of Lauren Laverne’s “Wonder Women” series. 

Ibibio Sound Machine balance these high energy, dancefloor, booty shakers with enchantingly formed songs that conjure up evocative, poetic imagery and empowering messages taken from the mesmerising folk stories recounted to Eno as a child, by her family in her mother’s Ibibio tongue.

Uyai offers a seamless blend of Electronic, African Highlife, Funk, Percussive and Brass sounds all wrapped up in strong vocals and will undoubtedly be a summer soundtrack at both festivals and live venues across Europe. Catch Ibibio at their live dates this summer at festivals in Morocco, Brighton, France and California. Followed by a UK tour in October.

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