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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.

Music

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A brief history of Ethio-jazz cultural exchange featuring songs by Nas & Damian Marley, K'naan, Madlib and more.

This article was originally published on OkayAfrica in March, 2017. We're republishing it here for our Crossroads series.

It's 2000 something. I'm holed up in my bedroom searching for samples to chop up on Fruity Loops. While deep into the free-market jungle of Amazon's suggested music section, I stumble across a compilation of Ethiopian music with faded pictures of nine guys jamming in white suit jackets. I press play on the 30 second sample.

My mind races with the opportunities these breakbeats offered a budding beat maker. Catchy organs, swinging horns, funky guitar riffs, soulful melodies and grainy and pained vocalists swoon over love lost and gained. Sung in my mother tongue—Amharic—this was a far cry from the corny synthesizer music of the 1990s that my parents played on Saturday mornings. I could actually sample this shit.

The next day, I burn a CD and pop it into my dad's car. His eyes light up when the first notes ooze out of the speakers. “Where did you get this?" He asks puzzlingly. “The internet," I respond smiling.

In the 1970s my dad was one of thousands of high school students in Addis Ababa protesting the monarchy. The protests eventually created instability which lead to a coup d'état. The monarchy was overthrown and a Marxist styled military junta composed of low ranking officers called the Derg came to power. The new regime subsequently banned music they deemed to be counter revolutionary. When the Derg came into power, Amha Eshete, a pioneering record producer and founder of Ahma Records, fled to the US and the master recordings of his label's tracks somehow ended up in a warehouse in Greece.

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