Ibibio Sound Machine - Electricity (Merge Records)

Ibibio Sound Machine – Electricity (Merge Records)

Ibibio Sound Machine (ISM) express the most wonderful dualities. Initially hinted by the Afro-funk London-based collective’s name (Sound Machine implying something automatic and Ibibio expressing a colourful free-flowing language) and rather aptly their record label’s moniker (Merge Records), they blend these dualities impeccably. Music that’s both equally organic in its African roots and electronic in its nod to the UK capital’s dance scenes. Historical in its mentality and futuristic in its progression. Furthermore, ISM’s lead vocalist Eno Williams sings in both her Ibibio native tongue from Nigeria and in English within the same track.

‘Protection From Evil’ ignites the powerful current that constantly pulsates through the eight piece’s fourth album Electricity, as they fight against an invisible unknown force. With the track’s amalgamation of traditional chanting aimed at expelling evil spirits with erratic space funk, it sounds like an exorcism from the future. Eno Williams’ is indomitable on here, as is the case on the addictive pop-soul gem ‘All That You Want’. This track captures the dualism essence the best as it interplays two types of choruses; Williams singing in the Ibibio language over vibrant synth as it battles against a Chaka Khan-redolent English language bellowing over ISM’s Tony Hayden’s trombone.

The most unrestrained moments on Electricity come in the form of ‘Casio (Yak Nda Nada)’ – Eno Williams’ soulful voice is encircled by fuzzy and experimental electronic effects that occasionally fire out that kind of lazers from a Star Wars blaster – and ‘Freedom’,  a song inspired by the daily routines of Cameroon’s Baka women and their feelings of “rage, hope, cope and soul” twists and turns but has a techno pace running through it that’s reminiscent of the frenzy feeling of Björk’sPluto’ from Homogenic.

‘Oyoyo’ and ‘Afo Ken Doko Mien’ are the closest to customary African music but with Ibibio Sound Machine’s fondness for genre-fusion and with Hot Chip on the production board this time, its always going to have some kind of electronic treatment. The title of the former translates as welcome in the Igbo language and its slick Western-African funk recalls Sinkane and Fela Kuti but there’s a pestering electric effect that adds a sense of mischief.  The simplicity and world music relaxation of ‘Afo Ken Doko Mien’  – which acts as a rest stop for the wildness on Electricity – could imagine a peaceful retreat where a sermon is being preached. The subtle electronica that adds gloss to the track keeps it within the ISM duality spectrum but it’s also fascinating to hear how dynamic Eno Williams’ vocals can be; often a force to be reckon with but also offering a calm spiritual guidance.

It’s not just Eno Williams’ voice that’s immersive but also her wit. The bilinguist is a clearly a passionate scholar of language but she can also pick it apart. On ‘17, 18, 19′  and the title track ‘Electricity’, she discusses tedious usages of language. The incredibly fun ‘17, 18, 19′ – which imagines Grace Jones singing over Gary Numan – is based on a Nigerian playground chant and after counting numbers, Eno Williams questions: “Whatcha talking about?” and advises (perhaps aimed at world leaders) to end the gibberish and never “break a promise you can’t keep”. 80’s drum machine-flavoured ‘Truth No Lie’- which has a wonderful guitar solo from Alfred Kari Bannerman – also has the same displeasure at deceptiveness. ‘Electricity’ – which features a blend of flute, tribal drums and spiralling electro – lists fancy words that end with -y such as “hypocrisy”, “sentimentality” and “democracy” before dismissing the pointlessness of smart speech and saying that only love is important and without this “there’s no electricity”.

Ibibio Sound Machine’s latest LP – as its title alludes -is an electrifying triumph. A genre-hopping voltage of positive energy. There’s so much to enjoy on here and the collective’s intriguing musical split personalities make it a record that has constant music discoveries on every listen.



God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.