Ibibio Sound Machine frontwoman Eno Williams sings more in English than on previous recordings during “Doko Mien,” the album the UK octet released here in March, but that did not signal a shift away from the Nigerian folk tales or West African highlife rhythms from which the first-generation Londoner has drawn inspiration since ISM’s self-titled 2014 debut. It’s just another element in the collective’s expanding sonic palette, which they’re bringing to Moroccan Lounge in Downtown LA Tuesday night.
“Nyak Mien” feels like a party-time shout across cultures, with ululating, reverb-processed calls that promptly give way to horn blasts, synths, and Ghanian guitarist Alfred Bannerman’s cheery highlife guitar lines. Prince would doubtless have approved of dance floor magnets like “Wanna Come Down,” “Basquiat” and disco-fied title track “Tell Me (Doko Mien).” ISM’s hip-twitching combination of squiggly synths, elastic grooves, marching drumbeats, electronic bleeps, Afrobeat horns and Bannerman’s funky leads instantly brings the Purple One to mind, while Williams’ smoky warmth is occasionally reminiscent of Caron Wheeler during Soul II Soul’s late-’80s heyday, especially during “Kuka” or when Williams invokes the hypnotic title phrase of “I Know That You’re Thinking About Me” or turns inward for “Quiet” (from ISM’s captivating 2017 album “Uyai”). The swaying, bilingual “Guess We Found a Way” at album’s end comes across like a declaration of universal soul: “Guess we found a way to speak to you/ Guess we found a way to say what’s true/ To say what’s real.”
ISM’s one of the more exciting bands to storm the global stage over the past decade, threading together intercontinental rhythms and stories of citizens of the world. Williams is the undeniable musical centerpoint of their polyrhythmic fusion. Onstage, she’s a commanding presence, fronting the colorfully garbed ensemble like the most joyful of no-nonsense divas, dancing and smiling wide while singing with enough fervent emotion that words sometimes feel superfluous. That said, unless you speak Ibibio it won’t be obvious that the indignant “Give Me a Reason” (from “Uyai”) protests Boko Haram’s notorious kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls. There’s no mistaking her demands or message during the Donna-Summer-would-be-proud anthem “She Work Very Hard” or the terrifically funky “I Need You to Be Sweet Like Sugar (Nnge Nte Suka).” Don’t be surprised if Angelenos sing along on Tuesday.
Ibibio Sound Machine at Moroccan Lounge, 901 E. First St., downtown LA, at 8 p.m. Tuesday, July 30; $20. All-ages show. Info: (213) 395-0610. ibibiosoundmachine.com, themoroccan.com