Photo: Dan Wilton

20 Questions: Ibibio Sound Machine

Beloved London collective Ibibio Sound Machine merges African pop styles with sleek synth aesthetics and they are back with a new album and plenty of opinions on Brexit, Bob Marley, and (of course) Thor.

Doko Mien
Ibibio Sound Machine

Ibibio Sound Machine will never settle down – and that’s a wonderful thing.

Ever since their 2014 debut, this London collective has merged African pop sounds with different types of electronic funk and dance music, resulting in hits like 2017’s sophomore effort Uyai, wherein this incredible collection of talented musicians created beats and sounds that garnered enough attention to warrant serious indie- and college-circuit radio play in the U.S. The band toured their world, their live shows became legendary, and they increasingly ended up playing to people from all walks of life. There is a universality to their message that crosses all sorts of cultural barriers.

Yet Ibibio Sound Machine isn’t the kind of group to stay in one place, and while Uyai felt like their aesthetic was filtered through various ’80s-indebted dance styles, their new effort, Doko Mien, is all pop. From the careful cascades of “I Know That You’re Thinking About Me” (which has echoes of Meshell Ndegeocello) to the sunny street pop of “Nyak Mien” to the lush mid-tempo balladry of “Guess We Found a Way”, it’s clear that the band are looking to expand their sound into new realms, one careful genre twist at a time.

So to celebrate the occasion, vocalist Eno Williams sat down to answer PopMatters’ 20 Questions, reflecting on her own thoughts of the Brexit debacle, which Bob Marley album she considers the greatest ever, and why she identifies so closely with Thor.

1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?

The Tattooist of Auschwitz, a book by Heather Morris.

2. The fictional character most like you?

Thor. I definitely like wearing funny costumes and also quite enjoy picking up heavy objects …

3. The greatest album, ever?

Gonna go with Survival by Bob Marley. It’s a masterclass in songwriting, arrangement, and production with a positive political message. This is subject to change on a regular basis, however.

4. Star Trek or Star Wars?

Star Wars. To be honest I never really watched either as a kid but I’ve enjoyed the recent reprisals of the original.

5. Your ideal brain food?

Music, love, sunshine, and traveling!

6. You’re proud of this accomplishment, but why?

Getting an education; it wasn’t a foregone conclusion.

7. You want to be remembered for …?

Making people happy. If I can influence people in a helpful way that’d be a bonus. We’re all the same in this world at the end of the day and I think spreading positive messages is crucial now more than ever

8. Of those who’ve come before, the most inspirational are?

My mum; she’s a great inspiration to me.

9. The creative masterpiece you wish bore your signature?

The songs of William Onyeabor. As a kid, I felt like he came from the future! He studied in Russia and bought back weird and wonderful instruments when he returned — something about his experience there culminated in his unique musical perspective.

10. Your hidden talents . . .?

Designing clothes, it’s my big hobby — I love it nearly as much as music. I’ve always made clothes since I was a kid, I have six sisters so growing up there was a lot of mending, creating and customizing at my house. I dabble in it constantly, although it tends to take me a very long time to finish anything.

11. The best piece of advice you actually followed?

Following my heart. It wasn’t exactly a case of “listening” as such because my boss at one point fired me and told me I should take this opportunity to focus on my music! I was on the “sensible” path, having studied accountancy at university but it never really felt like something I wanted to do forever. I wasn’t necessarily that good at it either, so it’s probably for the best that I was re-directed by a kind soul along the way!

12. The best thing you ever bought, stole, or borrowed?

My piano, I just bought it recently and I can’t bear the thought of being away from it so I’m going with that! I’ve never really played an instrument and have been getting quite obsessed with practicing lately.

13. You feel best in Armani or Levis or . . .?

Anything that fits.

14. Your dinner guest at the Ritz would be?

Michelle Obama. She’s a strong, confident, resilient woman and leader. I’ve been reading her book and would love to chat to her if I ever got the opportunity to do so, she’s someone I definitely look up to. Dinner at the Ritz with her would certainly be a dream come true!

15. Time travel: where, when and why?

To the future — I want to travel into space. At university, I did a thesis on Astronomy and have always been fascinated with it. As a kid, my dream was to be the first African woman in space!

16. Stress management: hit man, spa vacation or Prozac?

Spa vacation 100%.

17. Essential to life: coffee, vodka, cigarettes, chocolate, or . . .?

Chocolate keeps me happy, for sure.

18. Environ of choice: city or country, and where on the map?

Cruise ship, destination unknown. I spent a few happy years working on a cruise ship when I was younger and traveled around South America, the Caribbean, Alaska, and Europe. it’s something that I always find calling me back, although preferably as a passenger! I like being in a different place every week, so it suits me. Touring with a band is also kinda like that, although usually in somewhat more uncomfortable conditions …

19. What do you want to say to the leader of your country?

Get on with it … we’re in a mess right now. I don’t like the idea of England cutting itself off from Europe, as I feel we’re very much a part of each other, however as it appears we are leaving the EU the obfuscation our government has engaged in over the past couple of years has really made a dog’s dinner of things.

20. Last but certainly not least, what are you working on, now?

Touring with the band, writing music, you know — the usual. We’ve just finished playing a run of album launch shows around England and are looking forward to playing the U.S. and Canada, plus a bunch of festival spots in the coming months. Really excited about the new record and hoping to get out there and share the music with as many people as we can this year.