Ibibio Sound Machine @ Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival, 14 Jul

Live Review by Stephen Butchard | 17 Jul 2017

There’s a party happening under Edinburgh Castle, at the Paradiso, a pop-up carnival stage nestled into Princes Street Gardens. The tent will be the lifeblood of the Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival for the next ten days, and with its circus colour scheme, funhouse mirrors and stained glass glow from outside, it’s clear that they’re shooting for a celebration. Eight-piece Nigeria-via-London dance act Ibibio Sound Machine are the hosts tonight, and they couldn’t be a better fit.

Uyai, their latest album, is a rich blend of West-African funk, sleek electronics and post-punk starkness. The band know how to get the most out of a groove, building in dense layers of synths and percussion and sudden pivots in tone. It’s a stunningly detailed album, so much so that it was hard to imagine how they could effectively recreate its nuances live.

Their answer is to give us a new experience entirely. Their live show leans more on the organic side of the project, which is clear immediately in their opening jam, where the whirl of horns, guitar, bass and many literal bells and whistles are given more space to breathe. But each polyrhythm is distinct and punchy, and each guitar embellishment from Alfred Kari Bannerman sounds both on the fly and precise. The relatively stripped back songs from their self-titled debut like Let’s Dance and The Talking Fish are completely opened up with improvised solos, brighter sounds, and a room full of people to add weight to the chants.

The high energy is undeniable, even before vocalist Eno Williams has taken stage, and when she does, she keeps us there for the rest of the set. Her charisma and knack for writing a memorable melody should not go understated, as there are some points where her vocal is the only element carried through from the record. The Pot is on Fire, a sweaty rave of a closer, is built from the ground up. Williams' call-and-response chorus acts as a sturdy backbone for the rest of the band to play around with. On Trance Dance, the band are even more hyped than on record, somehow. Percussionist Anselmo Netto is given a chance to shine, bobbing from cymbals, to bongos, to cowbell, pushing the momentum throughout.

Just before playing Give Me a Reason, one of the band’s most uplifting cuts, Williams says that she was inspired to write the song after hearing of the kidnapping of the Chibok Schoolgirls by Boko Haram. Seconds later she’s dancing with the crowd, encouraging them to sing with an outstretched hand. The result of all of this removes much of the shadowy atmosphere lurking under the surface, and replaces it with untainted joy. The focus on positivity has purpose.