Ibeyi, translating from the west African Yoruba language as ‘twins’ are an Afro-Cuban/French twin duo that could be placed loosely in the soul/R&B genre. Lisa (the sister with the exquisite afro) takes the lead in terms of vocals and also plays the piano. Meanwhile Naomi (the sister with charming Latina curls) plays traditional Cuban percussion instruments the cajón and batá drum, whilst singing often eery but beautiful harmonies alongside Lisa.
Ibeyi’s style is experimental to say the least. The pair sing in a combination of languages including English, Spanish, French and Yoruba, and their music has influences of the genres they enjoy – jazz, electronic, and latin music. They have just released their second album with XL Recordings, following their self-titled debut that came out in 2015. In comparison, their second album Ash has more of an edited electronic sound.
In terms of production, this is heard in the electric drum machine sounds in “No Man Is Big Enough For My Arms“, and in the robotic sounding auto-tune in “Me Voy“. Though their primary record also toyed with electronic beats and samples, it had a stronger sense of rawness and related more to traditional latin music. Perhaps more influenced by the music the two were surrounded by growing up with their late father Anga Díaz, a member of Buena Vista Social Club.
The first track “I Carried This For Years” opens with chromatic choral vocals which remind me of the medieval madrigals I studied in sixth-form. Despite the style of backing vocals echoing such a historic form of music, the vocal style is becoming a popular basis for song intros – you can hear it in fellow soul/R&B/ artist Jorja Smith’s intro to “Something In The Way”. In this track, the vocals are then contrasted entirely with the modern dominating bass line.
“Me Voy” was released as a single prior to Ash. It’s one of the more commercial songs on the record, the percussion beats and marimba like instrument are some attributes often shared with modern popular club hits, such as Drake’s “Fake Love”. When interviewed by Stereogum, Ibeyi explained that they “wanted people to dance more and move more” with this album, and they have done just that.
Despite there being some familiar characteristics of the album in regards to the production, Ash remains alluringly obscure, partly due to emotive and often spiritual lyrics – which reflect the sisters as people. Like many artists, they write about negative feelings or emotions to gain a positive outcome in the format of music.
Ibeyi wrote the eighth track on the album “Transmission” with their mother and it summarises what they believe in – being open with others about your feelings, “There must be a way out, memories that bind“, and making an effort to understand and empathise, “Sing, our arms are wide, we climb on the walls, dance on the beats of hearts, one and all“.
Ibeyi conclude that confiding in people will benefit us as people by giving us clarity, and listening to people will benefit society because it means caring for and relating to others, and to be honest – they have a point. These poetic lyrics show the depth of the pair’s personalities, their spiritual mannerisms and often closeness to nature resulting from the influences of the Yoruba religion and culture.
Ibeyi have a truly original and refreshing sound. Despite the twins only being twenty-two the girls ooze wisdom and legitimacy. Their album Ash is a brilliant and entertaining catalyst for introducing a lesser known culture to popular music listeners. Ibeyi’s Ash is out now via XL Recordings, purchase it on iTunes here.
Words by Hannah Rodriguez