Ibibio Sound Machine

Ibibio Sound Machine


The winter bite has recently left the Manchester air and the newfound glow of spring is still a novelty tonight. Ideally, the visit of Ibibio Sound Machine, one of the country’s most vibrant and buoyant bands, would have been a great excuse to cash in on the seasonal change by playing in an open-air, verdant surrounding, but alas it is still a schoolday. Instead, the shadowy Ancoats enclave Band on the Wall is simmering with anticipation ahead of their arrival. The congregation is already kinetic and abuzz – they know the danceathon workout that lies ahead, and the moments before the band skip on stage are the unofficial muscle-loosening warm-up.

Like many others here, I have seen Ibibio play before. Then, it was an infectious, memorable night at Gorilla across town as part of the victory lap that followed the great reception for their self-titled debut album. Tonight, they are a more established force in British music, with their second record Uyai in the online shops and their live reputation celebrated widely enough that there is barely room to shuffle your shoulders in Band on the Wall.

When they do explode through the backstage curtain, they are immediately addictive. Too often do bands manufacture an aloof, detached air of cool on stage – well that’s certainly no critique that Ibibio will ever receive. What’s more, there are eight of them: vocals, guitar, bass, drums, toms, trumpet, trombone and saxophone. The excitement is mirrored by the crowd from the very beginning – if they’d have left without playing a note, they’d have done more than some performers manage.

When the music does start, it’s with a bang. They open with a brace from Uyai, ‘Guide U (Edu Kpeme)’ and ‘Joy (Idaresit)’, and it’s very clear that the new album is just as popular as their first. The communal, joyous spirit that they conjure up is hard to beat – it’s Cheshire cat grins and singalongs all round. Frontwoman Eno Williams is that impressed that at one stage she declares us “officially the best crowd in the whole wide world”.

The old songs get their fair outing too, with ‘The Talking Fish’ and ‘Let’s Dance’ being the obvious two standouts. Their now familiar blend of the traditional music of South East Nigeria (the Ibibio people and language are native to that area) and the underground electro trends of their South London home has carved them an enviable niche. It feels such a fresh collision of musical cultures that everything they do seems new, which may account for the special energy levels that they can muster.

They’re capable of getting serious too – Eno introduces ‘Give Me A Reason’ with a dedication to the tragically abducted Nigerian school girls, for instance – but their default position is to have fun. The sharp, deafening stabs of brass act as sirens, whilst the jungle rhythms of the twin drummers don’t let those bodies stop contorting into new shapes. By the time they round off the set with ‘Power Of 3’ and ‘Trance Dance’, each of the eight band members has had their moment to shine. The set is perfectly paced, with the night crescendoing at its highest point.

The encore was never in doubt. They return to a rapturous response, and launch into an extended, unrestricted version of ‘The Pot Is On Fire’, one of Uyai’s standouts. If anyone in Band on the Wall was beginning to flag, they were doing a good job at disguising it – even by this venue’s high standards of celebrating musicians from around the world, this has been intense. It’s hard to believe that Ibibio won’t play Manchester again – make sure you don’t miss them again.

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Max Pilley

I'm a refugee in Manchester, having successfully escaped Birmingham in 2007. I'm a soon-to-be journalism student, used to edit the music section of the Manchester Uni paper, and have done a little radio production to boot. I've been adding bits and pieces to Silent Radio since 2012, mostly gig reviews, but a few albums too. Also hoping now to get involved with the brilliant radio show. When doing none of that, you can usually find me at some gig venue somewhere around town.