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Ibibio Sound Machine Blends Nigerian Pop And British Electronica


IBIBIO SOUND MACHINE: (Singing in Ibibio).


That's going to wake you up. Here's some high-energy music that combines pop from Nigeria with beats and electronica from London. This is a band called Ibibio Sound Machine, and it's been getting a lot of attention.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: Their new album is called "Uyai." Eno Williams is the singer, and she joins us from the studios of the BBC in London.



GARCIA-NAVARRO: Let's talk a little bit first about the band's name.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: You named it after Miami Sound Machine. I'm a Miami girl.

WILLIAMS: Oh, wow.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What is it about their sound that you wanted to bring to your group?

WILLIAMS: (Laughter) You know, the funny thing - I'd heard Miami Sound Machine, like, a few years ago - I mean, when I was much younger. And I just loved the whole - the congo beats, just the drum sound, and just the beats kind of reminded me a lot of Africa.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Tell us about the Ibibio part. That's the language from where you grew up in Nigeria, right?

WILLIAMS: Yes. That's the language from the south - southern part of Nigeria. And it's a language that my mom and my grandmother spoke to me when I was growing up as a kid. And it's sort of the language that the stories are told in. And a lot of stories I remember being told as a child were all told in Ibibio. And when we started thinking about doing the project, I spoke to Max, who's a producer on the "Uyai" album, and I sang a few lines of some of the songs and some of the stories. And he thought it was really, really rhythmic and quite musical.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Can you give us an example of what you did when you pitched singing in your native language?

WILLIAMS: OK. (Singing in Ibibio). Or just in talking, (speaking rhythmically in Ibibio). Now I'm just saying a phrase, but that already sounds quite musical.


IBIBIO SOUND MACHINE: (Singing in Ibibio).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You sing a lot about women and empowerment. The song actually is about the hundreds of Chibok girls who were abducted in Nigeria in 2014.

WILLIAMS: That's right.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The music sounds very upbeat, very energetic. But what are the words saying?

WILLIAMS: The words are saying - give me a reason why because I remember hearing the story about girls being taken and being taken out of school and just because they were, you know, in school. And I wondered - well, why can't girls have, you know, right to go to school, to have an education? And it just kind of opened a bigger question in my mind why we can't be free, you know, to be what or who we want to be? - just that whole significance of freedom, you know, on a bigger scale and a bigger picture. So I ask the question - give me a reason why. In that song, we're kind of spreading that positive message and that uplifting vibe to be more hopeful.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I want to listen to another song now.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's about food (laughter).

WILLIAMS: (Laughter).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And it's called "The Pot Is On Fire."


IBIBIO SOUND MACHINE: (Singing) When her baby is hungry, mama going to say - dance, pot is on fire.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Where did this come from?

WILLIAMS: That is one of the funnier ones. But then again, it's got, like, a - it's got a morale to it as well. It's simply just saying, you know, when the child is saying they're hungry, the mother says - you know what? - dance, you know, because the pot is on fire. That means, you know, food's going to be ready soon.

But also - and more in the metaphorical reasoning behind that, it just means that something is cooking and something is brewing, and it will soon bear fruit.


IBIBIO SOUND MACHINE: (Singing in Ibibio).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'm imagining you dancing around in the kitchen with your mom. Is that what you used to do?

WILLIAMS: Yes, yes, yes, very much so (laughter).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right, I want to listen to another song now. It's called "Lullaby."


IBIBIO SOUND MACHINE: (Singing in Ibibio).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Speaking of mothers, you know, this obviously has some sort of connection to what a mother would sing to a child. What is this about?

WILLIAMS: Apart from just singing to the child as they fall asleep, it's just that notion of actually giving the child words of wisdom and just empowering the child as well, like, giving them advice - like, don't look at what other people are doing; you know, follow your own path; never think about what other people say; look to yourself for inner strength; listen to your own voice; don't be envious; don't be jealous - just, like, little words of wisdom being given to the child as they're being fed their normal food but also giving food for thought as well.


IBIBIO SOUND MACHINE: (Singing in Ibibio).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: As an African woman who also has her feet firmly also in Western culture in England, why sing in another language? Why bring the musicality of your native language to a wider audience?

WILLIAMS: I think there's something about hearing music in its original form that just really strikes a chord with the soul. So you may not understand what the music is, you know, about, but then you kind of identify with it somehow. So I mean, had I translated the songs into English, then the meaning, I think, would not be as deep as they are sung in the local language and just the lyrical content and the message and the morale of the language as well.

And just, I think, that language is quite universal also. And being that it's also quite musical, it lends itself because even though people may not understand what I'm singing about, they can kind of catch the spirit, the essence of that language in the music as well.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What's your favorite song on the album? (laughter)?


WILLIAMS: It's like asking a mother to pick a favorite child. Oh, wow.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What would you like our audience to hear as the last one?

WILLIAMS: OK, let's do "Trance Dance."

GARCIA-NAVARRO: "Trance Dance" - here we go.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: Eno Williams from Ibibio Sound Machine - their new album is called "Uyai." She joined us from our studios at the BBC in London. And how do you say thank you in Ibibio?

WILLIAMS: (Speaking Ibibio).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's beautiful. Thanks so much.

WILLIAMS: Thank you so much.


IBIBIO SOUND MACHINE: (Singing in Ibibio). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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