Ibibio Sound Machine @ YES, Manchester, 15 Mar

Ibibio Sound Machine bring incredible energy to YES, turning the crowd into a sea of movement

Live Review by Alex Phelan | 21 Mar 2019
  • Ibibio Sound Machine live at Edinburgh Blues and Jazz Festival 2017

When Ibibio Sound Machine roll into your town, you absolutely positively know a party is going down. So on Friday, Manchester braced itself for the first of two nights of the afro-funk-disco extravaganza, and we arrive at YES with our dancing shoes on and best moves at the ready.

Before things get crazy, we kick off with the more melancholic vibes of London afrobeat soul singer Aadae, whose set begins only 15 minutes after doors. While early birds are initially reticent to draw near, after a few songs she weaves her magic and has everyone swaying in hypnosis. She's wonderfully physically expressive, orchestrating the sounds with her bejewelled fingers.

Despite the sadness in her sounds, and song titles like River of Tears, her infectious smile and warm, engaging persona somehow gives the set a feeling of positivity. The still swaying (and by now much-larger) crowd are smiling and responsive to her witty repartee.

Then it’s time for Ibibio Sound Machine to pack the stage (we count nine of them) and really get things moving. Opening with I Need You To Be Sweet Like Sugar (Nnge Nte Suka) from their fantastic new record Doko Mien, lead singer Eno Williams – flanked by two women who dance, sing and shake incredible instruments that look like very tall shopping baskets (if anyone can identify these, drop us a line) – is a powerful, matriarchal presence.

The effect the band have on the audience is profound. The luminescent Pink Room in YES becomes a sea of movement, with each and every person casting caution and inhibitions to the wind, swinging their hips and throwing their hands in the air. Things go disco as the big beats and funk guitar of Wanna Come Down kick in and stage lights spray the gyrating audience with colour.

The chemistry on stage between musicians is a joy to behold, with Williams and her crew pointing to the percussionist who puts his hands to work with a solo performance on the Djembe drums. Then it's across to the other side of the stage to the guitarist who answers with a squealing riff, and each of them look to be having every bit as much fun as the crowd. Synchronised dance routines break out that seem more ad-lib than rehearsed; there’s a splendid synergy to the whole thing and the excellent sound at YES enhances it all the more.

If they've got any moves left in the locker, no one in attendance could be blamed for pulling a two-nighter and seeing them again on Saturday.