(SXSW 2015 flavoured!) Album Review: Ibeyi – Ibeyi

By on Tuesday, 10th February 2015 at 12:00 pm
 

At just 20 years of age, Paris-based sisters and twins Lisa-Kaindé and Naomi Diaz will definitely be on the younger end of the spectrum of artists performing at this year’s SXSW. But soon the world will be reminded that age is just a number. The Diaz sisters, the daughters of celebrated Bueno Vista Social Club percussionist Miguel “Anga” Diaz, chose their act’s name ‘Ibeyi’ from the word ‘twins’ from the Yoruba language native to their late father.

These two young women are about to rock the world stage with their intriguing blend of electronic, soul, pop and hip hop mixed in with more traditional sounds and chants from Yoruban culture, along with mesmerising, harmonising vocals that can only come from siblings. The album was produced by XL label boss Richard Russell, who impressed the sisters so much from their initial business meeting that “We went back home saying, OK, this is THE man. We have to make him want to work with us… When we stepped in his studio, we instantly felt at home. XL know how to work with young artists and let them grow.”

Smartly, ‘Ibeyi’ includes the title track and ‘River’ from their ‘Oya’ EP released last summer on XL; both are extremely strong. Naomi’s masterful percussion of ‘River’ is undeniably compelling, as the song (and indeed, the whole album) is a fitting tribute to the memory of their late father, whose death led Naomi to begin playing her father’s beloved cajon. This standout on the album is dedicated to Oshun, the African goddess of love, rivers and fertility, and the irresistible melody line makes the ‘River’ come alive, the sisters’ completely nailing it on the vocals. Their soulful delivery of this narrative of the religious ideal of salvation through the cleansing of one’s soul is arresting: take notice. The title of ‘Oya’ is also taken from folklore; the song addresses the deity of change and destruction, the long held notes of its vocals demonstrating the true beauty of the Diaz sisters’ voice. The solemn feel to the track, heightening the drama, is an interesting contrast to autotuned voices around mid-point in the song and the scattered of crashing noises throughout (is that the sound of vases being broken?).

This album, in addition to being a labour of love of two sisters who became closer through music, also has obvious familial connections. ‘Yanira’ is named for their older sister, whose virtues they wanted to highlight, turning her into a goddess. Through the magic of technology and samples, Lisa-Kaindé and Naomi had the opportunity to work with both their late father and their close friend Kid Atlaas, who died unexpectedly last year, on the swirly ‘Think of You’. I can’t think of any higher praise to the departed and beloved than the words “let’s remember with rhythm our loved ones that are gone / all the joy when we’re singing that no spell can destroy”. Their mother Maya, who had encouraged the teenage Lisa-Kaindé to write songs while bored at home when her 2-minute older twin went out without her, is also presumably referenced in ‘Mama Says’. The lyrics describe a child’s witnessing of her mother’s pain upon losing the man she loved, framed by a jazzy piano arrangement. These apparently autobiographical moments make the whole effort all the more touching.

As you move further along in the tracklisting, you find the second half is even more jazzy and definitely more poppy, treading more familiar ground in popular song. The syncopated rhythm of ‘Stranger Lover’, with Lisa-Kaindé telling a lover who will soon leave their doomed relationship “if you’re swallowed by the past / stranger, lover / this day will be our last / stranger, lover / come heal in my arms”, is hypnotic. The more conventional lyrics of ‘Faithful’ – “only you can satisfy me / you know how to save me / be faithful, show me your loyalty” – burn bright with desire, reined in from combusting into a conflagration by a gentle piano melody: the result is pure genius and another clear standout for its simplicity. Earlier in the LP, the more dancey ‘Ghosts’ shows a more desperate side of love, but the chanting at the end alters the overall feeling.

Topically, I find ‘Singles’ the most surprising of all on this album. Tackling loneliness and the wish *not* to be single anymore that all us women have at some time in our lives is a reminder that even though they are queens musically, Ibeyi are two mortal young women just like you and me. Despite some singing in Yoruban and French, ultimately the songwriting on ‘Ibeyi’ is driven by the beauty of love – for family, for friends and of the romantic kind – and it’s done so masterfully here, the album is proof that love has no limits.

9/10

The eponymous debut by Ibeyi will be out on the 16th of February on XL Recordings. Catch the sisters this month on tour in the UK shortly after the release, if you’re able grab tickets for it. They’ll be off to Austin for their debut appearance at SXSW in March. To hear a mixtape the sisters made of songs that have influenced them, head over to Complex.

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