Fronted by London-born Nigerian singer Eno Williams, Ibibio Sound Machine is a clash of African and electronic elements inspired in equal measure by the golden era of West African funk, disco, modern post-punk, and electro. The intervening time since their self-titled debut album in 2014 has been spent forging a reputation as a high-energy live act appearing on stages such as Later… with Jools Holland, Glastonbury, Roskilde, and the BBC 6 Music Festival, as well as at iconic venues such as Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London as part of Lauren Laverne’s “Wonder Women” series.
The album title Uyai means “beauty” in Ibibio language and refers to the strength and free spirit of women in general and, in particular, the courage of the women in Eno’s family, to whom she often refers in her writing. “It is a continuation of Ibibio Sound Machine’s story in which the worlds of West African highlife and electronic London collide via the storytelling lyrical thread of frontwoman Eno Williams’ vocals in the Ibibio language of Nigeria,” the band explains. “There is a darker, edgier quality to the sound that maybe reflects the difficult journey the band took from making the first album to completing the second one. The songs are based more around themes of empowerment, freedom, and the liberation of dance for women, and people in general.”
The songs of Uyai tackle the stories of life—both large and small. The album opens with “Give Me a Reason,” a song about the 276 Chibok girls who were abducted in northern Nigeria in 2014 and remain missing to this day. Eno challenges, “Why should girls be denied the right to education, and why should people in general not be free to be who they want to be in their life?” On the lighter side, “The Pot Is On Fire” is a food dance celebrating the “happy place” when the food will be ready soon. “It’s also metaphorical,” Eno writes. “Something is brewing which will soon bear fruit.”
Weird and wonderful folk stories, recounted to Eno by her family as a child in her mother’s Ibibio tongue, form the creative fabric from which the band’s unique musical tapestry is woven. Evocative poetic imagery and empowering messages set against an edgy, Afro-Electro soundscape give the band a unique space within the current wave of modern Afrocentric sounds sweeping across the globe.