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By Mary Chang
on Thursday, 17th September 2015 at 6:00 pm
The impossible talented French/Cuban sister act Ibeyi have a new video out this week for ‘Stranger/Lover’, appearing on their self-titled XL Recordings debut album that dropped back in February, ahead of their triumphant appearances at SXSW 2015.
Okay, so what is this video about? Two hands behind each of the sisters are playing with their hair, and I guess you could say that they’re guiding, changing and moulding each sister, even blinding them when their eyes are covered by the hands or by their hair being in the way. Actually, the more I think about it, the more I think it’s an awesome way of conveying being in a relationship with someone: even if you think you know your lover, there are things that you won’t know and those things make him a stranger, as much of a stranger as someone who is pulling at your hair behind you and you can’t see who it is. Weird video but also strangely hypnotic, like you can’t look away. Watch it below.
Coverage of Naomi and Lisa-Kainde Diaz of Ibeyi on TGTF is here.
By Mary Chang
on Wednesday, 1st April 2015 at 2:00 pm
I think everyone comes to SXSW with a list of must-see bands. Come hell or high water, you are so determined to see these acts, no one will get in your way, you will queue for hours in advance, etc. etc. etc. For me, one of my must-sees at SXSW 2015 was French/Cuban sister act Ibeyi, whose self-titled debut album released on XL in February is likely to be on my top albums of 2015 list when it comes time in December to thinking about the year in review. While I was disappointed they would be playing at St. David’s Historic Sanctuary, where I’d had a near religious experience and bawled my eyes out watching Daughter perform there back in 2012, I was happy to see that Ibeyi’s official showcase would be at Central Presbyterian Church, where I’d never been.
Immediately preceding the sisters was a name that been going around my friend circles, Vancouver, Canada’s Tobias Jesso, Jr. At first, sat in my pew, I had no idea where he was as he began to speak to the audience. My pew mates explained he was behind the large grand piano centre stage. Ok. I’d been told he had a Randy Newman-esque, self-deprecatory way about him, which is neither here nor there, but I thought, okay, if it works for Randy Newman, maybe it’ll work for this kid. The week he was in Austin was also the week his debut album ‘Goon’ was released on True Panther, so the timing was ripe for him to pick up some new fans. Judging from the number of people who couldn’t find a seat in one of the pews, the buzz about him must have gotten around town. Initially, I had an open mind. One song made me think, okay, he’s a little like Billy Joel in his storytelling. But then as the song went on, I changed my mind, deciding that such a comparison was insulting to the Piano Man.
If my count was correct, he had to restart a song three different times (twice on the same song) because he couldn’t remember the lyrics. If I am to give him the benefit of the doubt to say he wasn’t used to the pressure of SXSW or to playing to this many people and maybe he got nervous and cracked, I think that’s giving him too much credit. You’re playing on the world’s biggest stage at the world’s biggest festival, a festival than thousands of bands around the world only dream of getting a shout to, and you’re not ready? It’s unprofessional and embarrassing. Even worse, I found his attempts to laugh and wheedle his way out of his shortcomings made things worse. Just get on with it. The title of his last song, ‘How Could You Babe’, pretty much sums up my impression of Jesso, Jr.: numbingly plain and boring. I hope his other shows in Austin went on with less hitches.
So thank goodness for twins Naomi and Lisa-Kainde Diaz to bring some energy to the church next. The sisters may have been overwhelmed by their week in Austin and the reception they got everywhere they went, but in their case, it was entirely deserved. As expected from a sibling act, the harmonies between the sisters were tight, and straight off the bat we were treated to a brief a cappella bit that allowed their vocals to shine. Also included in the set was a never before tried rearrangement of ‘Oya’ that was peerless and of course, the super sultry ‘River’.
The church also erupted in cheers when the pair announced they were about to do a Jay Electronica cover of ‘Better in Tune with the Infinite’. It was soulful and beautiful. In between the songs, the twins were softspoken but that was part of their charm endearing themselves to the audience: these are two young women who are passionate about what they do, about continuing their family’s thread through music, yet it was evident in the almost breathless way they would speak that they are honestly blown away by how everyone has come to regard them as singers and musicians. I felt terrible leaving Ibeyi‘s set early, but I just had this gut feeling I was supposed to be somewhere else.
By Mary Chang
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.
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.
By Mary Chang
on Tuesday, 6th January 2015 at 12:00 pm
While there’s no 100% guarantee music may become their vocation, there’s no use denying the fact that children of musicians are exposed to a lot of amazing sounds while they’re growing up, which in turn lead to those children to not take a keen interest to music but also to take their genetic predilection and gifts, able truly take a good stab at making music their business. The daughters of famed Cuban percussionist and Buena Vista Social Club member Anga Diaz, Cuban sister act Ibeyi (“twins” in the Cuba-via-Nigeria language Yoruba) are twins Lisa-Kaindé and Naomi Diaz. Their father passed away when they were only 11, but the palpable weight of his legacy encouraged the sisters to learn the cajon, their father’s signature instrument, as well as folk songs sung in Yoruba.
Now based in Paris, the twins call on their many influences – from Kate Bush to Nina Simone, from James Blake to the Roots, plus their father, of course – for the Ibeyi sound which, as you can imagine if you were to put all those influences into a blender, is one you can’t put neatly into one genre box. The coolness of the beats and piano in ‘Mama Says’, recalling Mr Blake, might just be why the ears of XL Recordings boss Richard Russell perked up when he received a copy of the promo video the pair made themselves.
Lisa-Kaindé and Naomi, then 19 years old, signed to the Beggars Group offshoot last autumn, then celebrating their 20th birthday in December 2014 playing at St. James Church at Other Voices Dingle, Ireland, calling the experience “a real blessing”. Put together with their eclectic choice of instrumentation that changes from track to track, the sisters’ soulful voices and harmonies that can only really be produced by siblings are what truly set these sisters apart from the rest of the female duo renaissance currently taking place in the UK. Watch for their eponymous debut album to drop on the 16th of February on XL.
Along with artists we’ve covered previously on TGTF James Bay and Wolf Alice, Ibeyi were one of the acts chosen for the VEVO DSCVR Ones to Watch 2015. Judging from the live performance of ‘Oya’ did for them, the sisters will pull off spellbinding, winning performances when they showcase at SXSW 2015 in Austin in March.
By Mary Chang
on Monday, 5th January 2015 at 8:00 am
Paris via Cuba sister act and XL Recordings’ most recent signees Ibeyi have a short UK tour lined up for February to support their debut release for the Beggars offshoot. Tickets are on sale now.
Their soulful self-titled debut on XL will be released on the 16th of February 2015. As part of the TGTF Guide to SXSW 2015 and the lead-up to the big dance, stay tuned for a Bands to Watch feature on the pair by our editor Mary here on TGTF tomorrow at noon.
Wednesday 18th February 2015 – Bristol Louisiana (sold out)
Thursday 19th February 2015 – London Bush Hall (sold out)
Saturday 21st February 2015 – Glasgow Broadcast
Sunday 22nd February 2015 – Manchester Night and Day