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Ibibio Sound Machine's New Album, 'Uyai,' Is An Ambitious Leap Forward For Nigerian Electronic Pop

On their second album, 'Uyai,' Ibibio Sound Machine expand on their unique fusion of British electronica and Nigerian dance pop.

On their second full-length album, Uyai, London ensemble Ibibio Sound Machine take an ambitious leap forward with a new batch of tracks that expand on their unique fusion of British electronica and Nigerian dance pop.


Containing a diverse selection of radio-ready singles and more challenging, deeply inventive tracks, the band’s follow-up record to their 2014 debut is a bold, brilliantly conceived pop album.

Frontwoman Eno Williams lends more star power to the group’s collective sound, sourcing the inexhaustible energy of R&B and big band icons Janet Jackson, Celia Cruz and the late great Sharon Jones. She’s at her most indomitable on the album’s lead single and incendiary opening number, “Give Me A Reason.”

As with the much of Uyai, save for a few intermittent English hooks, this massively fun, 80s-homaging electro-pop jam is sung in Williams’ native Ibibio language, a creative choice that consciously obscures the dark message at its core.

“Give Me A Reason,” was written about the 2014 abduction of 276 schoolgirls in the Nigerian town of Chibok. Allegedly orchestrated by Islamic extremists opposed to Western lifestyles such as the education of women, 196 of those girls remain missing to this day.

The indirect reference points to an underlying theme of power and empowerment throughout Uyai, which translates to “beauty” in Ibibio. “Why should girls be denied the right to education,” Eno stated in the album’s press release, “And why should people in general not be free to be who they want to be in their life?”

That sense of liberation makes itself known through the band’s willingness to experiment, offering up a textured and complex collection of songs that builds on the uniform funk of their first LP.

Producer Max Grunhard, the band’s alto/baritone saxophonist and synth player, explores an altogether edgier sound for the twelve-track follow-up, channeling the urgency and hardness of London’s underground club scene.

You can hear it on fat house beats of “The Chant (Iquo Isang),” which samples the Cameroonian Makossa classic “Zangaléwa” by the Golden Sounds. Elsewhere the influence comes through on techno-heavy Krautrockian cuts “The Pot Is On Fire” and “Joy (Idaresit).”

Those fiery, adrenaline-rushing tracks ultimately give way to more subdued songs like “Lullaby,” “Cry (Eyed),” and “Quiet,” offering moments of reflection and meditation between the terrific intensity that defines the rest of the album.

But Ibibio Sound Machine are fully aware of their strengths. That’s why Uyai’s closing number–the polyrhythmic, hyper-speed grooves of Afro-funk banger “Trance Dance”–is the absolute perfect send-off.

Uyai is available now.

Interview

A Candid Conversation With Olamide & Fireboy DML

We talk to the Nigerian stars about the hardest lessons they've learned, best advice they've ever been given and what Nigeria means to them.

Olamide and Fireboy DML have been working together for three years, but the first time they sit down to do an interview together is hours after they arrive in New York City on a promo tour.

It's Fireboy's first time in the Big Apple — and in the US — and the rain that's pouring outside his hotel doesn't hinder his gratitude. "It's such a relief to be here, it's long overdue," he tells OkayAfrica. "I was supposed to be here last year, but Covid stopped that. This is a time to reflect and refresh. It's a reset button for me."

Olamide looks on, smiling assuredly. Since signing Fireboy to his YBNL Nation label in 2018, he's watched the soulful young singer rise to become one of Nigeria's most talked-about artists — from his breakout single, "Jealous," to his debut album Laughter, Tears & Goosebumps, hit collabs with D.Smoke and Cuppy, and his sophomore release, Apollo, last year.

Even while he shares his own latest record, UY Scuti, with the world, Olamide nurtures Fireboy's career with as much care and attention as he does his own, oscillating between his two roles of artist and label exec seamlessly. His 2020 album Carpe Diem is the most streamed album ever by an African rap artist, according to Audiomack, hitting over 140 million streams. When Olamide signed a joint venture with US-based record label and distribution company, Empire, in February last year he did so through his label, bringing Fireboy and any other artist he decides to sign along for the ride, and establishing one of the most noteworthy deals on the continent.

Below, Olamide & Fireboy DML speak to OkayAfrica about their mutual admiration for each other, what makes them get up in the morning and how they switch off.

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