Guess We Found a Way: Ibibio Sound Machine Discuss the Power of Positivity (And Fashion)

Jasmine Albertson
photo by Lindsay Melbourne

Recently, London-based band Ibibio Sound Machine unveiled their third album Doko Mien. The groovy beat-driven record infuses the polyrhythm and pizzicato guitar of Africa with funk, disco, and electro to make a genre-bending experience. The band is made up of Nigerian singer Eno Williams and Ghanaian guitarist Alfred “Kari” Bannerman alongside a world-class backing band of musicians that bring a burst of funky rhythms, slapping bass, bold horns, and impassioned guitar lines to make Doko Mien one of the most dynamic and joyful records of the year.

KEXP spoke with Williams in an interview about the new record, staying positive in the post-Brexit UK, and – the most important topic of all – fashion. Read below.


KEXP: You’re three albums in now, what’s changed and what have you learned since your 2014 debut?

Eno Williams: We've been finding our way in the world as a band, wrestling with the idea of wanting to communicate a message to listeners, but not exactly putting it across lyrically in words that most people can understand.

I guess that's an odd one – the oblique nature of singing in both Ibibio and English has been a cool journey. When we started out, it felt like a case of coming together in a random meeting of different musicians which then became our first record, but since then we've started to get deeper into this idea of trying to communicate to people in interesting ways and as we go along it feels like we could really still get a lot further into that idea, like we've only found the tip of the iceberg!

I would imagine that Nigerians are incredibly excited about their native tongue being displayed and shared on a large platform. How has the band been received there?

It's been a slow building thing, as we're way outside the Nigerian mainstream and there is perhaps not the sophistication in the music market to accommodate the eclecticism you find in Europe, the US and some other places. Having said that, we've had some really wonderful responses from people, especially Ibibio speakers (of which there are perhaps only roughly 5 million out of around 200 million Nigerians).

I'll never forget when we first supported Seun Kuti at Citadel Festival in London a few years back and one of the security guards just happened to be an Ibibio speaker – he nearly leapt out of his skin when we came off after our set, saying he couldn't believe he was hearing his own language being sung at a big music festival - he was so happy about it! That kind of thing is amazing and hopefully we'll get to perform in Nigeria soon, but the right opportunity has not yet arisen.


I’m curious about whether, in the post-Brexit UK and being both female-led and singing partly in a foreign, non-English, language, you’ve received any negative treatment despite your joyous and loving presence and perspective.

No, I'm a firm believer in the power of positivity and I think most people are inherently good, even if they don't always realize it. When we go out to play gigs and so forth with the band, we always try to bring good energy to the stage even if we ourselves aren't feeling that way before we go on and I know that people pick up on that.

Brexit has stirred up some nasty sentiments yes, but everything is a question of perspective. It's important to try and speak with each other, interact, yes people may have very different political views to you – but so what? Common ground is there to be found if you look for it and perhaps one of the negatives of this age of social media is that it lends itself to the idea of polarisation, in that the sensational always wins out against the more measured and perhaps thoughtful.

As for being female-led, I find that is generally very well received and I don't see it as a negative in any way. It's just been a privilege to play and sing for people.

On a more superficial level, we have to talk about your beautiful and colorful outfits! Where do you get them and do you have a specific designer you work with?

Now you're talking - a favourite subject of mine! I love fashion and have been very lucky to find an extremely talented young designer from Berlin called Laura Lang who I meet now and again and we discuss ideas, and then she goes away and comes up with some brilliant things. The latest outfit I wore on the cover of our new album is another one of hers - she suggested we work on the colourful pattern together and if you look at it closely, we took pictures of synthesizers and old tape machines that we sent her and she turned them into a computer-generated pattern which she then sent off to get made into fabric! I'm always making bits and bobs as well, I'd secretly love to do some proper designing one day.

What’s next for Ibibio Sound Machine and will you ever come to play Seattle?

Well, we're touring our album Doko Mien currently and are going to be doing a bunch of festivals coming up. We're very excited about returning to America too in the summer and would certainly not take much convincing to pay you a visit in Seattle, I can say that for sure!

Stay tuned for footage of Ibibio Sound Machine's performance at KEXP's International Clash Day London Broadcast. Below. listen to "Doko Mien (Tell Me)."



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