African Funk Sunrise
Ibibio Sound Machine starts gently and beautifully like early morning. From there, it’s all horns, bass and stories told in lead singer Eno Williams’ mother’s native Ibibio language. Williams is London-born but was born of Nigerian parents. The album is equal parts funk and West-African traditional music. The majority of the lyrics are in Ibibio, but the beat alternates between African and funk. This is Ibibio Sound Machine’s first album, but there’s nothing novice about it.
The lyrics and vocals of Ibibio Sound Machine are a testament to how artful a language can be even when meaning is stripped away by the listener’s inability to understand it. The cadences of the lyrics are often surprising, stopping abruptly, the consonants and vowels bumping into each other in ways unfamiliar to Western ears. It’s these surprises that are the most rewarding.
The horn section is fantastic. They’re smooth without being dreary, brassy without being bombastic, and full without being overwhelming. The electronic elements enhance rather than distract from the musicianship on display on this album. Most times you have to really listen closely to notice them at all. Some songs are dancier than others, especially “The Talking Fish (Asem Usem Iyak),” which relies heavily on slap bass, a standard on all things funky. The breakout single “Let’s Dance (Yak Inek Unek)” sounds more like house music than anything, but maintains Ibibio Sound Machine’s identity with the live horns. Things sound a bit more native on “Uwa The Peacock (Eki Ko Inuen Uwa),” where the guitar riffs and traditional African beat could have been plucked from Paul Simon’s 1987 concert in Zimbabwe.
The sun sets on this album with “Ibibio Spiritual,” and despite being in the Ibibio language, the melody may sound very familiar to most listeners. Ibibio Sound Machine has artfully blended electronic music with traditional funk and even more traditional West African music and language. Music has always transcended the language barrier, and Ibibio Sound Machine takes that music and makes you dance to it.