African disco and post-punk: Ibibio Sound Machine

By Staff Writer Sawyer Pollit.

Following a two year hiatus, London based musical group Ibibio Sound Machine released their third studio album Doko Mien.

Ibibio Sound Machine formed in 2010 and includes vocalist Eno Williams, synth and horn players Scott Baylis, Max Grunhard, and Tony Hayden, guitarist Alfred Kari Bannerman, bassist John McKenzie, and percussionists Jose Joyette and Anselmo Netto.

Ibibio Sound Machine, for those who may not be familiar, fuse the funky sounds of West African disco with more modern genres such as electronic music and post-punk. Doko Mien brings more of the sound that fans have come to expect from the eclectic group.

Many of the tracks on this album definitely evoke a feeling of 80’s nostalgia in their use of synthesizers and horn sections that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Tom Jones classic. Doko Mien still manages to remain fresh and modern even though it calls back to classic motifs.

At no time does it feel like Ibibio Sound Machine presents a sound that has been heard before. At least in the states, the idea of West African funk is a concept far removed from American sensibilities regarding music. The cultural blend alone makes this an album worth listening to, and nothing in this album could be called derivative.

Many of the songs on this Doko Mien have lyrics that are sung entirely in Ibibio, the native language of vocalist Eno Williams’ Nigerian mother. Because of this, the lyrical content can’t be judged on the same merits as a song performed in English.

For this reviewer, the inclusion of Ibibio in the lyrics is not a strike against the songs but in fact presents a unique opportunity. An opportunity to engage with the lyrics on a rhythmic and poetic level rather than one of understanding and content. To really enjoy what is being sung on a track like “Just Go Forward (Ka I So)” one needs to feel the words as pure sound and feeling.

The vocal quality of Eno Williams is powerful and cutting, in a good way. It is clear that she has something to say and she is going to say it. At no point does it seem like Williams is phoning it in. Much like going to see a Shakespeare play, it doesn’t matter much if you can’t follow the plot, what matters is that you enjoy the ride, and what a ride this project offers. Ever song offers a new auditory smorgasbord on which to feast.

The percussion section on this album is clearly the most African influenced piece of the sonic pie. These rhythms help to accent the rest of the group and lend a unique sound that is very hard to find anywhere else. Juxtaposed against the rest of the instrumentation that is more familiar to Western ears, the percussion is what really brings Doko Mien to life.

After listening to this album several times throughout the day, I would rate it at an 8 out of a possible 10. The only factors keeping it away from the coveted 10 spot come down to personal tastes regarding music. I found that although every song was excellently done, there was nothing I heard that really “got” me. Oftentimes when reviewing an album, I note the track where I want to stop listening and start wishing I picked a different article to write. With Doko Mien that point never came. I gladly listened to the entire project, but that was it. I didn’t go back and listen to any tracks, and there was nothing I felt the need to add to a playlist.

That is not to say that you, dear reader, might not find anything that you fall in love with. This album could easily be someone’s 10 out of 10. However, Ibibio Sound Machine’s Doko Mien falls short of being mine.

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