Following the warm reception of Ibibio Sound Machine’s 2014 self-titled debut, the London-based collective unexpectedly signed to American indie rock powerhouse Merge Records for the release of sophomore album Uyai in 2017.
Most of the songs are party jams, combining ’80s R&B/funk melodies, shuffling drums, blazing guitars, and fiery horns with strong vocals and playful synths. “Joy (Idaresit)” has distorted post-punk bass guitar along with complex drumming and swirling echo effects. “Power of 3” brings the live drumming and bass guitar to the forefront, but is still adorned with spacy disco effects.
With this release, the eight-member group continues its blend of West African rhythms, disco, funk, and electro, adding a bit more post-punk and new wave this time around. Dynamic frontwoman Eno Williams is still the star of the show, and while many of her lyrics (sung in Ibibio and English) are still based on Nigerian folktales, this album is more socially conscious, reflecting on recent events and the general state of the world.
“Trance Dance,” all the way at the end of the album, is absolutely frantic, with ultra-busy drumming and giddy vocals. The album does cool down on a few occasions, however. The loose, airy “Quiet” and electro-tinged “Lullaby” are both self-explanatory, and the soft, sighing “Cry (Eyed)” is also appropriately sad and bittersweet. Uyai is a fine, boundary-pushing follow-up to an arresting debut.
Opening song “Give Me a Reason,” an ecstatic highlife/electroclash crossover, is about the abduction of 276 female students in Chibok, Nigeria in 2014. Dealing with such heavy topics, the album has a slightly darker edge, but it’s still incredibly playful and celebratory. This is hopeful, all-inclusive music that calls out for the liberation of women and Africans, as well as freedom for the human race in general.