Eno Williams and her eight-piece band are delivering feel-good Ibibio parables to a new beat
When London-based band Ibibio Sound Machine released their debut eponymous album in 2014, they introduced a truly fresh sound to the music world. The eight piece’s unexpected genre-blend includes notes of punk, highlife and electro, all topped off with the Ibibio lyrics of frontwoman Eno Williams. “The Ibibio language is quite rhythmic, very musical,” explains Williams, who grew up in Lagos. “My grandma always used to tease me about it – would I ever sing in Ibibio? And when I started writing and creating the melody, the language just seemed natural.”
The lyrical content is unique too. The songs are inspired by the life-affirming folk tales that Williams heard from her mother and that beloved grandmother – from the story of the talking fish who showed that things aren’t always what they seem, to the peacock who learnt that it’s best to be yourself. Many of the band’s fans won’t understand the lyrics, but the joyful, energising sound of the words shines through. “Before I sing the song, I give a synopsis – but even if we don’t understand the language, we feel the connection,” says Williams.
"Singers like Manu Dibango, Angelique Kidjo
and Miriam Makeba all paved the way for today’s artists and helped to create that bridge between African music and the west"
While the women in her family are a guiding force in her music, they also helped to shape her look. “They were very stylish people, always interested in the way to present yourself,” she says. Her covetable stage wardrobe revolves around colourful prints and exaggerated, punchy silhouettes. “I love costumes. It’s nice to have something that makes you stand out on stage. We work with the stylist Nelson Santos; I come up with ideas and he creates the designs. I like to use African prints – my mum sources some of the fabrics – and we look at what’s happening on the runway as well.”
The band has spent recent months playing festivals and trying out material for a second album, which is slated for release early next year. Williams sings alongside Alfred Bannerman on guitar, Anselmo Netto on percussion, Leon Brichard on bass and synth, Jose Joyette on drums, Max Grunhard on alto sax, Tony Hayden on trombone and synth, and Scott Baylis on trumpet. It’s a sprawling, collaborative approach. Each member brings influences to the music, but African sounds are a driving force.
“Singers like Manu Dibango, Angelique Kidjo and Miriam Makeba all paved the way for today’s artists and helped to create that bridge between African music and the west,” says Williams. “Even when Miriam Makeba was in South Africa, she was able to spread that African love and the African vibe worldwide. It gave me the feeling that if other people can do it, I don’t see a reason why I can’t.” It sounds like the moral of one of her folk tales – and like the music itself, it’s brimming with positivity.
Ibibio Sound Machine - Let's Dance
Words Hattie Crisell
Photography David Titlow for Riposte magazine
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