Off the Charts Pick of the Week: Ibibio Sound Machine’s “Doko Mien”

Ibibio Sound Machine stars an eight-person band with extensive instrumentation and a diverse range of sounds. Doko Mien, their latest album, showcases the band’s capacity for making exceptional music.

The band is led by vocalist Eno Williams and is backed up by guitarist Alfred Kari Bannerman, percussionist Anselmo Netto, and bassist John McKenzie. Additionally, wind ensemble and keyboard musicians Tony Hayden, Scott Baylis, and Max Grunhard provide trombone, trumpet, and saxophone support.

In 2010, producers Gunhard, Leon Brichard, and Benji Bouton formed the group with the intent to create afrobeat music with electronic influence, and the band has since released three studio albums.

Following the formation of Ibibio Sound Machine, the group reached out to Williams, a Nigerian-British female vocalist, to serve as their lead singer. Soon after, Ghanian guitarist Bannerman and Brazilian percussionist Netto joined the growing band.  

Ibibio Sound Machine pulls together musical elements from across the globe to construct their unique electronic music. The group’s unreplicable sound is influenced by “the golden era of West-African funk & disco and modern post-punk & electro,” and Williams’ lyrics are sung in both English and Ibibio, a native language from her mother’s home state in southeast Nigeria.

Over the last six years, the group has produced three studio albums— the second two under Merge Records after signing in 2016.

Their 2017 album Uyai was well received, earning 84/100 on Metacritic and a 7.0 rating on Pitchfork. The music video for the single “Give Me a Reason” stacked 190 thousand views on Youtube, their highest viewership yet on the platform. Notably, Ibibio Sound Machine’s live presence is incredible in its vivid liveliness, as shown in their performance of “Power of Three” at the Stern Grove Festival in August of 2017.

On March 22, 2019, Ibibio Sound Machine released their 11-song, 41-minute studio album Doko Mien under Merge Records.

One of the most impressive elements of Doko Mien and the band in its entirety is their ability to pair traditional acoustic and electronic instrumentation with vocal talent — the first and last tracks exhibit this especially well. The closing song, “Basquiat,” displays the instrumentational drive of the group, specifically through the inclusion of a substantial brass section.

Opener “I Need You to Be Sweet Like Sugar (Nnge Nte Suka)” provides a strong foundation of bass guitar with several moments of extended synth buildups, leading to powerful and intense highs on the track.

Ibibio Sound Machine’s funk influence shines through on several songs in this project. “Just Go Forward (Ka I So)” and “Wanna Come Down” showcase the incorporation of Williams’ lyrics— whether they are in English, Ibibio or absent altogether— with funky instrumentation from the brass, percussion, and guitar sections.

Alongside the prevalence of global musical influence on the project, Ibibio Sound Machine’s commitment to creating electronic music is clear. “She Work Very Hard” and “Tell Me (Doko Mien)” are my favorite examples, broadcasting their desire to create modern electronic tunes without sacrificing their afrobeat influence.

Considering Eno Williams’ exceptional vocal talents, the inclusion of some slower, less intense tracks on this project was necessary. “I Know That You’re Thinking About Me” is a gorgeous piece of music that features strong buildup and a rewarding payoff around the 2:30 mark.

“Kuka” and “Guess We Found a Way” are slow and beautiful back-to-back tracks pleasantly dominated by Williams’ vocal ability. “Kuka” is entirely sung in Ibibio and is accompanied by a heavy drum beat, while “Guess We Found a Way” incorporates a guitar melody with a synth background.

Ibibio Sound Machine is a spectacular band, and Doko Mien exemplifies the group’s unique liveliness. Great talent spans the entire eight-person ensemble, and the complex sound they produce is curated perfectly through a cohesive assembly of strong instrumentation and vocal aptitude.

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