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ALBUM REVIEW: Ibibio Sound Machine creates a bed of divergent retro music on ‘Doko Mien’

Formed in 2013, Ibibio Sound Machine is an English electronic afro-funk band from London.
The band currently consists of vocalist Eno Williams, guitarist Alfred Kari Bannerman, percussionist Anselmo Netto, drummer Jose Joyette, bassist John McKenzie, trombonist/keyboardist Tony Hayden, trumpeter/keyboardist Scott Baylis and saxophonist/keyboardist Max Grunhard.
Though comprising only one Nigerian – the lead vocalist, Eno Young – the band got its name from Eno’s family, which hails from Akwa Ibom State in Nigeria. While the band majorly makes electronic, afro-funk and disco, they claim to get their inspiration from the West African funk and disco which had in its golden era in the 60’s and 70’s.

Doko Mien is their 11-track third album after 2014’s self-titled album and 2017’s Uyai. At first listen, you would think the band made for trying to push foreign language in UK music, but music is spiritual, you don’t have to understand the language to enjoy it and that’s why Ibibio Sound Machine thrives.
This album is definitely made for roadshows, niche fanbases and retro parties because it’s not for everybody. Most people won’t enjoy it, but if you can calm down, there is something for you in Doko Mien, which is brilliant for its incredibly detailed production. Let’s get to the breakdown and try to follow me;
I Need You To Be Sweet Like Sugar (Nnge Nte Suka)
This one was sung in a mixture of English and Ibibio, it’s a love song that tells a lover to be sweet like sugar. The electric guitar riffs are the best thing about this song. It is slower-paced and filled with rock n’ roll era guitar. This song is tailor-made for a stage performance.
Wanna Come Down
Ibibio Sound Machine “Wanna Come Down”
This one was sung totally in Ibibio, it is more fast-paced than the first track and Williams, the band’s lead vocalist sings, “Let’s go, come and see something.” It’s like an invitation, the guitar riffs around the hook are so powerful and immense, you almost forget a song is going on.
Tell Me (Doko Mien)
The title track feels like something off Michael Jackson’s 1979 album, ‘Off The Wall’ which incorporated disco and funk heavily into its sound. Eno Williams is telling a lover to tell her what he wants he to do, before singing the same thing in Ibibio.
This is very experimental and risky music in this age and time, with the requirements of live instrumentation. This is impressive – a lot of work must have gone into this.
The percussion must have been created with a sampler though, but shout-out to the producer, still. But I wager he had a template.
I Know That You Are Thinking About Me
The track sheds light on ‘Doko Mien’ which probably talks about a troubled relationship the vocalist is afraid of losing, so she begs the lover to tell her what he wants. On this track, the couple seem to have broken up.
This song seems like a convergence of soft rock, folk and blue drums. But one thing has been noticeable so far, Eno Williams lags too much on the major conversations in songs, that leads to an overkill.
On this one, she repeats, “I know that you’re thinking about me’ more times than required, but she gets saved by the instrumentation; a collision of electric guitars, trumpets, cellos, and well-timed drums. These snare are giving me life.
Best song so far, the final 90 seconds and the trumpets are simply mad.
Ibibio Sound Machine – Doko Mien Album Review
I Will Run
Instrumentation in this opening few songs, it feels like a Florence and The Machine record minus the sharp effects that accompanies the strings. The percussion seems African. It is short, songwriting is not so impressive. This album has mostly been about great production so far.
It seems a deviation from the narrative so far, but maybe the band didn’t intend for topical progression and cohesion, maybe they simply wanted to create good songs about the theme of love. ‘Running’ could also be a response to a bad breakup.
Just Go Forward (Ka I So)
Okay, I think the final line of the previous paragraph is plausible. It still seems I’m forcing this narrative, but the detail does not support my feelings of intentional topical cohesion of the narrative.
The song was sung in Ibibio and chorus was done in English. Unsurprisingly, production is good.
She Work Very Hard
We need a movie for this one, it feels like one thing played in a suspense scene of a thrilling movie where the protagonist beats his captor or attacker blue and black. I don’t really like this one, but I can appreciate the work behind the production.
Nyak Mien
I like this, this is like merging Yoruba juju with funk instrumentation and Igbo hi-life music. I can see people jamming to this one in a pub, drinks in hand. ‘Nyak Mien’ is Ibibio and it means ‘leave me alone’ or ‘stop touching me’ in English. This could either mean that the lover is back, or it could verily be a song about consent.
African drums, a chant, this feels like a traditional sacrifice. ‘Kuka’ means ‘Leave me alone.’
Guess We Found A Way
Ibibio Sound Machine “Guess We Found a Way”
This one is slower from the folk angle. Production is unsurprisingly good and we are kind of back on point. It also validates the previous songs as a relationship plight, not consent in some way. This probably means a way has been found.
The opening seems a like a Jazz montage, reason behind the ‘Basquiat’ title is not really clear though.
This is a mind-blowing experience in the detailed production. The songwriting doesn’t always match the production and that’s the worry. There was also the issue of excessive repetition of the song titles in the lyrics.
The production papered the cracks, but one thing I’m not certain of is whether the album was meant to have a cohesive narrative or a bunch of disjointed songs on an album.
However, ‘Doko Mien’ is not for everybody. Not even all rock fans will like this album. If not that I have used ‘acquired taste’ too often recently, it’s the perfect description for this album – divergent music, but its execution, especially on songwriting isn’t all good news.
Expert Ibibio speakers have also complained about her pronunciation of certain words, but that’s understandable. On albums like this though, it’s difficult to criticize tracklist, because it’s divergent music. For what it was meant to be though, it’s a very good listen – for its audience, it will be a great listen.
Ratings: /10
•      0-2: Flop
•      2.1-4.0: Near fall
•      4.1-6.0: Average
•      6.1-8: Victory
•      8.1-10: Champion
Pulse Rating:
Production: 1.8/2
Topics, Themes and Songwriting: 1.2
Execution: 1.3
Tracklist: 1.8
Enjoyability: 1.2

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