Album review

Camilla George – ‘Ibio-Ibio’

Camilla George – Ibio-Ibio

(K7/ Ever Records – EVER102CD. Review by Graham Spry)

So much of the vibrant young London Jazz scene owes a huge debt to Tomorrow’s Warriors, not only in providing a supportive environment for young British black jazz musicians but also by encouraging them to develop jazz music true to themselves that might also incorporate musical influences from Africa, the Caribbean, hip-hop and soul. Along with Nubya Garcia and Shabaka Hutchings, alto saxophonist Camilla George has a long history of being active in Tomorrow’s Warriors and, like them, her recordings continue that tradition of openness to musical traditions other than jazz from her debut album released at the beginning of 2017, Isang, to her latest album, Ibio-Ibio.

George’s compositions blend a wide range of styles and genres into contemporary jazz, including elements of West African music. Her regular band includes bassist Daniel Casimir, trumpeter Sheila Maurice-Grey and pianist Sarah Tandy who are all well-respected band leaders in their own right. Other performers on her album are Renato Paris (vocals and keyboards), Winston Clifford (drums), Shirley Tetteh (guitar), Sam Jones (drums), and Rosie Turton (trombone).

The album’s title, Ibio-Ibio, relates to the Ibibio people of South Eastern Coastal Nigeria who represent George’s heritage and whose language she speaks. The opening and closing tracks, Creation – Abasi and Atai and Creation – Nnyin Ido Ibibio, make clear that the album’s primary purpose is to celebrate the original culture and religion of the Ibibio people, in particular the legend of Abasi and Atai: the supreme ruler of the universe and his wife. In both versions of Creation, this theme is declared in a declamatory style by Birmingham female rapper SANITY accompanied by hip-hop percussionist Daru Jones.

The two guest stars also perform on The Long Juju Slave Route of Arochokwu, a track which highlights the complicated history of the Arochokwu region of coastal Nigeria where tourists can still see relics of the British slave routes and where, as the lyrics say, “the rivers ran red”. The track in which African musical traditions are most plainly expressed is Journey Across The Sea that features a guest appearance from Senegalese kora player Kadialy Kouyate. The track sandwiched between these two is Ekpe which celebrates a secret society that spread beyond West Africa to Brazil and Cuba. As is evident in their titles, these songs are chiefly concerned with the enduring and pernicious legacy of the international slave trade that devastated the Ibibio people.

There is a feel of George Benson in the vocal style of Ukpong, a celebratory tribute to the people of Eket, the region of Nigeria where George was born. The following two instrumental tracks honour Abasi, the supreme ruler. The first, Abasi Enyong, features a reflective saxophone performance that recalls the style of Jackie McLean, one of George’s principal influences. The second, Abasi Isang, brings together Turton’s trombone and Maurice-Grey’s trumpet in West African style harmonies the title of which echoes that of George’s first album, Isang, whose meaning is ‘journey’ in the Ibibio language.

Once again, this is a record released by a significant British jazz musician who’s been inspired by the shared experience of the pandemic lockdown in 2020 during which the songs of this album were composed and recorded. This experience allowed George the opportunity to further explore her Ibibio heritage and record yet another well-structured and satisfying album. On this occasion Camilla George has chosen to release her music on Ever Records: the recently relaunched jazz imprint of the German !K7 record label group.

LINKS: Buy Ibio-Ibio

Interview with Leah Williams from 2016/7

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