Ibibio Sound Machine at The Wedgewood Rooms, Southsea REVIEW: 'Frontwoman Eno Williams is a commanding presence'

Ibibio Sound Machine at The Wedgewood Rooms, Southsea. Picture by Paul Windsor
Ibibio Sound Machine at The Wedgewood Rooms, Southsea. Picture by Paul Windsor
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From the off, it is obvious this is no typical night in The Wedge.

I’ll confess when I saw this booking, I raised an eyebrow. 

Ibibio Sound Machine at The Wedgewood Rooms, Southsea. Picture by Paul Windsor

Ibibio Sound Machine at The Wedgewood Rooms, Southsea. Picture by Paul Windsor

An Afro-funk, Nigeria-by-way-of-London, eight-piece band? I was sceptical – it’s about as far from your populist meat-and-two-veg indie as you could get.

Thankfully the good people of Portsmouth and surrounds proved me wrong. The house is rammed.

Eno Williams is a commanding presence – frontwoman, band leader and all-round ring leader. There may be seven other immensely talented players on stage, but this is her show.

When she asks early on if Portsmouth is here to party, the answer is a hugely emphatic roar.

And how often are you going to get a call and response out of crowd in a west-African dialect?

There’s also nods to Eno’s family roots, particularly in the highlife of Nyak Mien.

Their ability to bypass the brain and go straight to you feet is impressive –  it’s rare to see so many people dancing with such abandon at The Wedge.

But they’re not just about dancing – Give Me A Reason is about trying to explain the horror of the  dozens of schoolgirls kidnapped by terrorist group Boko Haram in 2014. There is a clear social conscience at play here too.

The band come across like an updated blend of Sly and The Family Stone and Funkadelic via Africa – guitarist Alfred Kari Bannerman in particular would not sound out of place on the latter’s peak work as he peels off some serious solos.

There’s the odd dip into ’80s new wave synths as well.

This is ISM’s first visit to Portsmouth. Given their reception tonight, here’s to many more.