Ibibio Sound Machine – Interview – 2015

Ibibio Sound Machine are an eight piece band who put a modern twist on the West African sound. Their songs are based around folk stories from southeast Nigeria, which are draped in vibrant afrocentric sounds and pulsating electronic beats which will leave you breathless from the uncontrollable dancing it evokes. I spoke to British/Nigerian lead vocalist Ebo Williams moments after she left the stage at The Haunt after a glorious performance, to find out more about the band.

It was truly an amazing atmosphere. How was it on stage? The floor was literally wobbling by the bar.
This was our second time in Brighton and the first time was great, but this was definitely mind blowing! The crowd really got into it and where having a great time. There was a crazy energy out there. Everybody was jumping all the time. You can’t help but move to the music. It’s all about joy and spreading love, the kind of feeling the makes you forget about whatever you are bogged down with. Music doesn’t always have to be about sad songs.

There definitely weren’t any sad songs in that set.
Ha. That’s true. Although there is one song about a father that gives his son all his wealth, and he has gone away and squandered it all until he doesn’t have anything. The son is at a low point, thinking what to do. Then he goes back to his father, who literally embraces him. So it has a happy ending.

How do you relax after an energetic performance like that?
Hopefully it will be an early night tonight. Probably go chill somewhere with a bottle of wine.

What are the influences when you started to record Ibibio Sound Machine?
The concept is based on the Ibibio language that’s from the south-eastern part of Nigeria. It’s the language my mother and grandmother spoke when I was young. The music is a collaboration of different influences; from Talking Heads to High-Life, Brazilian to Afrikaans. We call it the United Colors Of Benetton, you have something from every part of the spectrum in the band. You have Max Grunhard (Sax) and Tony Hayden (trombone/synth) from Australia, Scoot Baylis (trumpet) who’s English, Leon Brichard (bass) from France, Anselmo Netto (percussion) who’s Brazillian, Jose Joyette (drums) from Trinidad, and Alfred Bannerman (guitar) who’s Ghanaian.

Wow. How did you all come together?
We have all done different stuff with each other in the past, and came together to do something a bit different. It was pretty much started by myself, Max, Leon and Benji Bouton (producer) toying with the idea of doing something in my mother’s tongue. We were playing around with a few songs and everyone was loving how rhythmic the sound was. Leon and Benji coming up with the music, and myself coming up with the lyrics. Then we had the guys come in with the electronic side, and then Alfred with his High-Life guitar.

It must be great being part of Soundway Records, one of my favourite labels.
Yeah. They are the ones that have been pushing the West-African sound to the forefront. They have been really helpful with this project, putting us in contact with Alfred who plays in Konkoma which is also on the label.

You have had a pretty amazing year in 2014 with your self-titled debut album being on most people’s Best Of lists. What have you got in store this year?
We’re playing BBC 6Music festival, and we’ll also be at the Royal Festival Hall supporting the tUnE-yArDs. We’re hope this year can be just as good as last year, if not better. We’re focusing on doing lots of concerts and festivals this year, and also hopefully start to think about the next project for Ibibio Sound Machine.

Iain Lauder