From my understanding, Uyai is about the power and beauty of women. Eno recounts stories of her family, childhood, and her African roots sung through her mother’s native tongue. The opening track "Give Me a Reason" will finish as one of the best songs of 2017, hands down. It kicks off the album with an unparalleled energy. The 80’s synth breaks moving simultaneously with the horns create a beat that is a wonderful melding of funk, disco, and electro.
The vocal performances by Eno Williams are emotional and fantastic all the way through, singing in a combination of the Ibibio language of Nigeria and English. The catchiest vocal performance on the track list comes at number two, "The Chant (Iquo Isang)". This song features the most obvious storytelling on the album. It seems to be about a girl who remembers a chant from her youth that gives her a liberating feeling; “she remembers the chant, the chant keeps her going”. It then breaks into a catchy chant and chorus that just feels awesome.
"The Pot is on Fire" is a fantastic instrumental arrangement. Curious percussion leads the charge as Ibibio pairs their electro sound with live instrumentation flawlessly. The rhythmic chanting of West African genres really pushes the groove of the song. Quiet provides a needed break from the action. The softer cut features one of Eno’s most soulful of the project. The electronics take a back seat, letting guitars take control. It shows the versatility Ibibio is capable of. "Joy (Idaresit)" is one of the most experimental takes on the album, with a guitar riff and percussion line that sounds straight from Joy Division.
Ibibio does great work of balancing the high-energy and physical sounds of the album with its more subtle and sweet efforts. Songs like "Power of 3", "Guide You (Edu Kpeme)", "Sunray (Eyio)", and "Trance Dance" are energetic and danceable, while tracks like "Lullaby" let you sit back and think a little. The atmospheric beat and percussion on "Lullaby" was a unique touch to the album, while the synth solo on "Guide You (Edu Kpeme)" and the guitar solo on "Power of 3" were incredibly fun moments. The closer, "Trance Dance" is an accumulation of the band’s efforts. It finishes the project with a high-octane experience of electronics, guitar, and horns that feels inspiring.
The first negative of the album appears on the third track, "One That Lights Up (Andi Domo Ikang Uwem Mi)". It lacks the dynamic sound of the rest of the album and operates at one volume. "Cry (Eyed)" at the bottom of the track listing serves as a sort of interlude, but feels lost in its placement. It takes away from the upbeat flow of the songs "Sunray (Eyio)" and "Trance Dance".
London-born, Nigerian singer Eno Williams leads the charge with Ibibio Sound Machine, and comes through with an energetic and dynamic fusion of genres on Uyai. The album’s refreshing sound has the potential to appeal to a large variety of music fans. Anyone who enjoys the sounds of funk, soul, and disco will have an immediate take-away. Even fans of LCD Soundsystem, synth-pop, or the post-punk sounds of Joy Division should come away from this project happy. Despite the majority of the album being in the Ibibio language, the chants and driving rhythms are catchy and provide a ton of replay value. This all but guarantees that I will happily return to Uyai throughout the years.
Favorite Tracks: "Give Me a Reason", "The Chant (Iquo Isang)", "The Pot Is on Fire", "Quiet", "Joy (Idaresit)", "Power of 3", "Lullaby", "Trance Dance"
Least Favorite Tracks: "One That Lights Up (Andi Domo Ikang Uwem Mi)", "Cry (Eyed)"