London-based DJ/live music collective Ibibio Sound Machine combine sounds inspired in equal measure by the golden era of West African funk and disco, post-punk, and modern electro.
The band was started by producers Max Grunhard, Leon Brichard, and Benji Bouton, who were all enthusiasts of African grooves from the 1970s and '80s. The group took club culture by storm with their self-titled debut for Miles Cleret's Soundway label in 2014. Due to support from a host of influential DJs including Gilles Peterson, the album opened the door for international touring. ISM unexpectedly signed to Merge for 2017's Uyai, an offering that added elements of post-punk to their already heady genre collision.
This trio began creating drum'n'bass tracks around the voice of frontwoman Eno Williams. Though London-born, she was a first-generation citizen of the U.K. of Nigerian origin. Williams' mother, whose native tongue was Ibibo, recounted numerous folk and children's stories from her own heritage to her daughter, and Williams crafted lyrics from these sources and married them to modern themes. After the rhythm tracks were created, the three producers first enlisted Ghanaian guitar legend Alfred "Kari" Bannerman (from the band Konkoma), Brazilian percussionist Anselmo Netto, and synth/horn men Tony Hayden and Scott Baylis as a way of illustrating Williams' singing.
Though their inspirations are from an earlier time, Ibibio Sound Machine's approach is distinctly modern; the band's music holds equal appeal on-stage and on record. The band's first single, "Let's Dance," was issued by Soundway in January of 2014, and became a dancefloor smash in London clubs. It was followed by a self-titled album in March. In 2016, the group appeared on the Beating Heart: Malawi compilation along with artists such as Luke Vibert and Machinedrum. During the same year, the band signed to indie rock powerhouse Merge Records. Their second album, Uyai, arrived on the label in 2017; it peaked at number six on the World Album chart. After a world tour in 2018, during which the Eiyo EP and the single "Basquiat" were released, the octet dropped three more internet-released singles in "Tell Me," "Wanna Come Down," and "Guess We Found a Way" before releasing their third album, Doko Mien, in March of 2019 and hitting the road for an international tour. ~ Thom Jurek, Rovi