The multi-ethnic island of Cuba’s cultural motto “¡Patria o Muerte, Venceremos!” translates as “Homeland or Death We Shall Overcome“. That’s a powerful proverb that is perhaps installed in the minds of Paris-based twin sisters Lisa-Kaïndé and Naomi Diaz as they come to terms with the loss of their musical father percussionist Anga Diaz. Influential in both the Latin Jazz scene and in his daughter’s lives, Ibeyi demonstrate their devoted respect for him and use their eponymous debut to encompass his spirit, soul, idiosyncrasies and passion for musical artistry whilst also chaptering different stages of a mourning process.
Whilst it’s easy to compare the dual vocal arrangement and unified harmonies to other rising sister doublets First Aid Kit, and Lily & Madeleine and the short-lived twin collective Taxi Taxi!, the fact is Ibeyi’s voices don’t just intertwine perfectly, they are also breathtaking in A Capella form. One of many examples of their powerful solitary voices is in the intro “Ellegua“, a song that’s also surprisingly sung in Yoruba, a Nigerian language that was adopted by African slaves imprisoned in Cuba.
The exotic nature of their chanting sounds so authentic, that it appears to be possessed by Maafa ancestry. The adoption of Spanish and Yoruba in their lyrics amongst their everyday dialects of French and English, is a fitting stylistic tribute to their father and adds to the unpredictable compositions. Whilst the honour is completed by the key inclusion of Anga Diaz’s signature instrument: the box-shaped percussion instrument The Cajón. There is also a subtle hint of Afro-Cuban jazz of the latter half of the salutation on “Yanira” and “Singles“, which is reminiscent of Diaz’s A Love Supreme and Pueblo Nuevo.
As well as being a jubilated celebration of their father’s talent and skills, Ibeyi also acts as a timeline of mourning and experiencing the Kubler-Ross Model of: denial, anger, bargaining and acceptance. In many occasions, the expression of their sorrows appears abstract but it’s actually expressed in the form of Yoruba cosmology, which has a hymnic construction to it’s lyrical form. For example, on the choral and tribal Chloe Charles-eque “Oya“, the sisters proclaim in English and French to the Yoruba goddess of cemeteries demanding they can be taken to the underworld.
On the first upbeat track of the LP and the reggae fusion of “Ghosts”, the sisters question their emotions of acceptance: “let go of the ghost/should we just let it be?“. The process of purification and baptism is pronounced in the edgy “River” which contains a nostalgic melody a kin to the 1990s R&B of Seal’s “Fly Like An Eagle” and X-Scape’s “Who’s That Man?”. The melancholic piano piece “Behind The Curtain” compares the unstable nature of intimate relationships with the universal attachment of family. A theme which is also represented in the clap-filled and bass-punching “Mama Says”. Emotionally harmonic it quotes their mother’s self-detachment and depression as the sisters attempt to console her.
In the space of just twelve tracks, we feel a great deal of empathy towards Lisa and Naomi, as if we have known them for years. We absorb their pain, get motivated by their strength, are energized by their love and are welcomed by their heritage. More than most, this a tale of two sisters with incredible likable personalities and hearts of gold that make them not just talented musicians but ideal daughters.
Ibeyi is out now on XL Recordings, purchase it on iTunes here.
Words by Matt Hobbs // Edited by Ayo Adepoju