The self-titled debut by Ibibo Sound Machine is quite literally unlike any other African-electronic music fusion project. The group is fronted by Eno Williams, a London-born singer of southeastern Nigerian (Ibibo) descent. DJs and producers Max Grunhard, Leon Brichard, and Benji Bouton heard Williams and built a band around her. They created a slew of grooves for that voice based on the West African highlife, funk, and disco they all loved, then enlisted Ghanian guitarist Alfred "Kari" Bannerman of Konkoma, Tony Hayden and Scott Bayliss on synths and horns, and Brazilian master percussionist Anselmo Netto to illustrate the rhythms and vocals. Williams' voice possesses a timeless quality. When she's singing a tune with folk roots, such as opener "Voice of the Bird (Uyio Inuen)," it sounds like it comes from the ether of the historic past. It can have a gritty quality as well, as evidenced by the careening bubbler "Let's Dance (Yak Inek Unek)." The fat horns and sub-basement bassline are triple-timed by a criss-crossing array of rhythms. "The Tortoise (Nsaha Idem Ikit)" is a dark, funky groover with squelchy synths, breaks, and popping handrums on top of a rubbery bassline and Afrobeat horns. Distorted mbiras and bright guitars fuel the bright soulful horn lines on "I'm Running (Nya Fehe)." Williams' open-throated vocal evokes the historical past above Bannerman's punchy single-line fills. There's great humor here, too, as African disco reigns supreme in "Talking Fish (Asem Usem Iyak)," as primitive drum machines, cheesy analog synths, and J.B.'s-styled horns throw down the funk to a folk tale! (Williams' lyrics are all based on stories and tales from her grandmother's village.) "Woman of Substance (Awuwan Itiaba)," is loops, frenetic, winding bass, and snaky guitar and flute lines as the singer delivers the words in an earthy, soulful, near-moaning voice. The only track not saturated in rhythm is the brief, haunting closer "Ibibo Spiritual" with Williams' multi-tracked voice creating its own polyphonic call-and-response. Ibibo Sound Machine is an auspicious debut. The producers molded their rhythms around that beautiful voice with taste, creativity, and integrity, and the band plays the hell out of it all.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek