ibibio sound machine is the band that transformed world-music inspirations into something dazzlingly new. frontwoman eno williams tells us how
In 2014, an eight-piece London band called Ibibio Sound Machine appeared as if from nowhere, causing a wave of YouTube visits, Spotify searches and frantic Shazam-ing. Their first single, ‘Let’s Dance’, was a joyful, jangling, carnival of a track that felt both familiar and completely new, thanks to the band’s unique blend of West-African funk and modern-electro influences. The album that followed was addictive and uplifting, with lyrics by frontwoman Eno Williams, who sings in her mother’s native Ibibio language.
With a major tour underway and a second album in the works, Williams spills the beans on the band’s fresh sound. ‘We’re touring all summer, and it’s going really well. We’ve played Glastonbury and Blissfields, and we have Somersault, Wilderness, BoomTown, Shambala and lots more coming up. When you’re touring there’s a lot of running around, a lot of hopping in and out of the bus, but the audiences have been great. Touring keeps the music alive, so it’s a good sacrifice.
We’re a big band: there are eight of us, which is a lot of fun. Our management organises the logistics and makes sure everyone is in the right place at the right time. We’re grown-ups, so everyone’s quite disciplined. We love doing this job – when we’re all on stage, it feels like a party.
As a child in Nigeria, I was told folk stories with meanings and morals, and now they go into our music. Every human being has a culture and a history, and it’s nice to pass along these stories as opposed to just singing about sex, which is what usually sells music. It’s about trying to make something uplifting and positive. I read that Janelle Monae said she wears her uniform nightly because she feels she has a job to do. Even though we’re standing on stage performing, we all have a message to share, or something to say to society. Hopefully we’re doing our job right as musicians.
I was born in London but I spent most of my childhood in Nigeria, where I used to sing and write music with my sisters. When I moved back to England, I continued it as a hobby, singing in church and then doing sessions and touring shows. I’d always wanted to do something in my mum’s local Ibibio language, so I talked to one of the producers of the album, and sang for him in the dialect, which is very rhythmic. We ended up going from one song to another telling the folk stories, which then formed the backbone of the album. Then we had the guitarist Alfred Bannerman, who came along with his highlife vibe, and Anselmo Netto, who’s a Brazilian percussionist, and then the electronic side came in. It developed into a studio concept project really. It’s a metamorphosis from something I’d always loved doing, into a more unique sound.
I listened to a lot of artists growing up – Miriam Makeba, Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin. In our music you can hear my influences and everybody else’s too: the funk, the pop, the punk rock, the jazz, the highlife, Talking Heads, James Brown and more.
Our second album will be out in the near future. Recently we’ve added four new tracks to the set, to test them out, and they’ve been going down really well. We’re hoping to expand on what you’ve already heard, and make it even better.’