Ibibio Sound Machine // Live Review & Photoset

9th March | Trinity

Photos: Hannah Rooke

I think I’ve just been to my favourite gig of the year already. I know it’s only March, but I’m going to call off the search. It’s going to take something big to top Ibibio Sound Machine, a dynamic show which cemented their status as the heavyweights of afro-funk.

It was a lively Saturday night and Trinity Centre was bustling; Big Jeff was at the front of the stage – naturally – and support act Aadae was powering through her set. The set-up was minimal: only her voice and a drummer were present, which made for a stripped-back yet impressive performance. Her Cuban pop-tinged tunes were packed with energy and showcased her seamless vocal range. Aadae was charismatic and engaging, and her cover of Etta James’ ‘I’d Rather Go Blind’ was soulfully wicked – an fitting start to a night which was only about to get groovier.

The mighty ten-piece then assumed the stage: a totally impressive set-up, complete with backing vocalists and a hefty percussion section. Frontwoman, Eno Williams wore a custom-made floral gown; her presence was undeniably cool. Limbs were flying to the beat of their opening tune, ‘I Need You To Be Sweet Like Sugar’, from their upcoming album. The beefy horns dominated the track and it was delightfully funky.

“What’s up Bristol? You ready for an African party?” Eno enquired. In response, everyone cheered the house (in this case, church) down. It felt as though we were part of a boisterous jamboree; at one point Eno prompted the audience to repeat the trills she was singing, albeit that none of us could quite hit the notes that she could.

We were then treated to one of the latest singles from their upcoming album. ‘Wanna Come Down’ featured some funky bass slapping and celestial synth riffs, all topped off with a catchy chorus. It had a much more electronic feel compared to some of their earlier stuff, but nonetheless encapsulated their rich spectrum of genres.

The entire night was a sensory overload. We were charmed by the lush backing vocals, which enriched the performance as a whole, not to mention the punchy trombone solos. The sound at Trinity Centre was fantastic, along with the visceral light show which only heightened the entire spiritual experience.

“There is so much love here tonight!” Eno declared with a beaming smile. When she spoke it was minimal yet deeply powerful. There was no need to tell lengthy anecdotes or promote their next album; the music did all the talking. ‘I Know That You’re Thinking About Me’ was another tune from their upcoming album. Jaunty guitar riffs dominated this track along with a trumpet solo that had been layered with effect pedals to the point where you could question whether or not it was a real instrument.

Ibibio Sound Machine topped the night off with a rendition of ‘Let’s Dance’, percussionist Anselmo Netto going hell-for-leather on the bongos and encouraging us all to clap along for the finale. An enigmatic ending to an insane night.

Listen to ‘Wanna Come Down’ here: