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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.

News Brief

Prominent Zimbabwean Activist  Sheds Light on Current Crisis

Doug Coltart, a vocal activist and human rights lawyer based in Harare, speaks to Okayafrica about what's currently happening in Zimbabwe.

A few days ago, the Zimbabwean government issued a directive to major cellular network providers Econet and TelOne to disable the internet and all access to social media. The directive was an attempt to prevent any information from spreading outside the country's borders with regards to the nationwide protests which have led to the deaths of at least five people and the injury of at least twenty-five others.

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The front page of The New York Times on January 16, 2019

Kenyans Are Furious at the New York Times for Posting Photos of Terrorist Victims

After the the deadly attack on Tuesday, many are accusing the American newspaper of having a double standard on which dead bodies they allow into the paper

Is the New York Times guilty of a double standard when it comes to publishing images of dead bodies?

Kenyans, and others fed up with the coverage, took to social media in the hundreds to denounce a Times article that included an image of victims of Tuesday's Nairobi terrorist attack, bloodied from bullets, and lying hunched over their laptops, dead.

It has cause enough debate online to where the Times' incoming East Africa Bureau chief Kimiko de Freytas-Tamura felt the need to explain their photo policy, which is to show the dead only if their faces cannot be seen in the image. The photo in question fits the policy as the faces are facing away from the camera. She would later apologize before posting the official policy to her Twitter account. The photo remains up.

The Times' official response, as those tend to do online, has only created more anger. But unlike many unruly Twitter mobs, those responding to the official statement have a rather coherent message—"you wouldn't do this with photos of the American dead."

Some of the responses to the Times' official statement.

In a response to the controversy from the Poynter Institute, a typically astute observer of journalistic practice in the United States, they run through the typical American journalism school approach to publishing photos that might shock or offend. They write:

Should the Times have run the photo?
There is no easy answer.
The first question any news organization must ask when deciding to publish violent images is: WHY show it?
In other words, what is the news value? Does the public need to see such an image to fully grasp what happened? Does the public need to see such a photo to confirm or disprove the official account of the events?
An argument could be made that a writer's words could accurately describe the scene without being as disturbing as the image. In addition, when it comes to an act of terrorism, might publishing such a photo actually advance the cause of the terrorists, showing the damage they caused, thus fueling dread and panic?
Also this: The photo on the Times website came without warning. As a reader, you didn't know you were going to see a photo of dead people until you actually saw it.
Those are arguments to not run such a photo or, at least, warn readers of its graphic content.

While it's a fine analysis of when to show a violent image, it misses the central issue at play for those aggrieved by the Times' posting—that the American news-gaze values certain lives differently. Black, brown, foreign, poor—American journalism organizations, including the New York Times, cannot escape a base ethnocentrism in their coverage. It's so embedded into how these institutions operate, and the gap in understanding is so wide, that to much of the world, the Times' official response is laughably wrong at first glance.

"We take the same approach wherever in the world something like this happens--balancing the need for sensitivity and respect with our mission of showing the reality of these events"

And while there are examples from the Times that complicate this feeling, like these images of the dead in the terrorist attack in Nice, France, it doesn't discount the wider and correct feeling that the white victims of American mass shootings are treated differently than their African counterparts. And while there are complicated and systematic reasons for this which will always make discussing it difficult, to simply deny that different standards exist, does not increase the Times' credibility with Kenyans or the newspaper's growing online audience which will only become more vocal about how they're portrayed.

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Falz 'Moral Instruction'

The 10 Songs You Need to Hear This Week

The best music of the week featuring Falz, King Monada, Zlatan, Yemi Alade and more.

Every week, we highlight the cream of the crop in music through our Best Music of the Week column.

Here's our round up of the best tracks and music videos that came across our desks, which you can also check out in our Songs You Need to Hear This Week playlists on Spotify and Apple Music.

Follow OkayAfrica on Spotify and Apple Music to get immediate updates every week and read about some of our selections ahead.

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