Ibibio Sound Machine


London’s own afro-funk party known as Ibibio Sound Machine have gained a passionate following from all walks of life, young and old. A likely reasoning is the way they sew West-African dance and funk music with the hyper-animated electro-punk heard over at labels like DFA Records. Tonight, they play at Yes in Manchester – a compact but intimate venue perfect for anyone looking to bring people together – bringing their new album, Doko Mien, along with them a week before release in the market stall and performance as well.

As soul vocalist Aadae stands on stage as the show’s opener, the audience floor is initially barren, and dishearteningly sterile. Nonetheless, song after song, her joyous character wins the people over, they are soon gathered around her at the front like Aadae was the leader of an inward campfire. She ignites the room with very hip-driven soul music that finds an optimal balance between sustaining a groove long enough to provide a stable platform for her very capable vocal talents, and switching it up enough to intrigue and excite. This is regularly topped off with beckoning ad-libs that take the form of bird calls, a true treat to hear. I’m an admirer of the 90s trip-hop movement, and Aadae’s voice takes me back to those early female vocalists that blitzed up those records, astounding women like Shara Nelson and Tracey Thorn. She treats us to a handful of covers, most notably one from Etta James, however, the hooks of her originals lose potency as time passes, being too simplistic for my liking, oft mistaking predictable repetition for stickiness. Fortunately, she finishes strong with a fluorescing Afrobeat glow, a blissful catharsis of percussive polyrhythms and bubbling electronics, a wise choice to prepare us for the main event.

Bodies in lavish attire fill the stage, pointing my attention towards the wild array of palettes each branch of the Sound Machine creates art with – a full drum kit pairs with congas, trumpets stand side-by-side with synthesizers. We watch on eagerly as lead singer, Eno Williams, bowing to the audience in respect, before a carnival of sounds creates waves of movement in the crowd. The mixing is a silent hero, ensuring every element pops into the middle of the song at the right time, which is crucial to maintaining this exceptional jam-band feel.

Ibibio’s maximalist style fills every vertex of the room with music, be it sharp trumpet hits or Cubanised rhythms that transport the crowd to a Havana bar – it is clear that their primary objective is fun. Shoutout to the little tidbits of choreography shared by Eno and her backing singers, that accentuate this fun factor. These synchronized movements are refreshing to see, subtly nodding to the showmanship they possess. The slower cut in the centre of the set fails to captivate as much as the brighter side of Ibibio, feeling like a bitter come-down that doesn’t collide colourfully like a Holi festival, instead pulling more towards Ramadan – starved of energy. Still, some of the best moments of the night contrive of simple but unusual meetings, such as when the squelching guitar manned by Alfred Kari Bannerman fits behind African chants, a harmonic bridge between Western and African music.

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