Ibeyi, which means twins in Yoruba, is the musical project of Naomi and Lisa-Kainde Díaz, daughters of the late Miguel ‘Anga’ Díaz (Buena Vista Social Club). Half french half cuban, the two sisters mix soul and hip-hop beats with Yoruba chants in their new album coming up in february.
*The interview being in french, I’ll try to explain in my own words what came out of it. However, as it was a rich and long exchange, I’ll keep a bit of it just for me, for my greatest pleasure. Sorry guys.
A few nights ago I met with Ibeyi on skype and it was amazing. Even if it was 10 am in the cold Paris and the image kept freezing persistently (which resulted in me waving crazily at my computer in order to show them I was still here) the twins were super friendly. I prepared a few questions but the interview quickly took off as they love to talk.
When I first ask them to define their music, they are hesitant for a brief second. “It’s always tricky to put our music in a particular genre. To avoid the question, we usually say our songs are arranged contemporary negro spirituals. ‘Cause Yoruba is first of all religious chants sang by slaves. And it all comes from the prayers.” Indeed, the Yoruba culture is a part of them. Originally from West Africa, the language moved mainly to Cuba due to the Atlantic slave trade.
Not being able to understand the language, they are still learning it and know for which divinity they sing. When I ask which Yoruba group I should listen to, they advise me Yoruba Andabo, “the main one”.
About their musical debuts, they say their mother took them in a lot of concerts, but their first one was obviously one of their father’s (the lead percussionist of the Buena Vista Social Club. No pressure here). “You know the babies that parents take to concerts and who end up in the front row? well that was us.”
Then they learned classical music for 10 years, Lisa-Kainde being at the piano and Naomi at the Cajon and Batas. “Cause I sucked at playing battery” she laughs. “And those percussions are way more intense anyways, they are a part of me. I think I began to play the Batas unconsciously after our father passed away.”
Ibeyi was created 3 years ago when the twins were only 17 (I’ll give you a minute to recall what you were doing at 17, sad eh?). And unlike what we can think, they never played together before. They tried one summer but it was a catastrophe.
Nonetheless they ended up using their differences as a strength, even if everyday’s life is not always easy between them. But let’s be honest, who in the world gets along perfectly with their sibling? And they say it themselves, they couldn’t have done an album without each other. “An album with only me in it would be so depressing.” emphasises Lisa-Kainde. “And with you, it would be like, just gangsta rap.” To what her sister responds: “what’s wrong with gangsta rap?” Here we go again. They enjoy interrupting each other, but always with love don’t worry.
Their new album naturally called Ibeyi is out on the 16th of february at XL Records, and is also available on vinyl (!). The 4 songs already released – “Oya”, “River”, “Mama Says” and “Ghosts” – are a perfect musical blend that gives us an idea of what the record will be like.
“We had this wish to make something that looks like us at 100%, and above all something organic, very intimate.” They keep it simple : all the songs are written in family, with their mother or uncle. But the biggest help they could ever hope for is the one of Richard Russell, producer of XL. “We were only 19 but he let us handle things as adults and never tried to interfere […] The good thing is, Naomi knew very well where she wanted the album to go and I knew where I didn’t wanna lead it.”
When I ask them about their dream collaboration, they seem to be open to anyone. Meshell Ndegeocello, Jay Electronica, Frank Ocean, or even “KENDRICK LAMAAAAAR” (Naomi is apparently a huge fan). “As long as it suits us artistically, and mostly if we have time.”
Time is the only thing that they seem to lack of, even if they don’t really take notice of their recent notoriety. “We still go buy our baguette every morning as always.” When I tell them that in Melbourne we put their songs at parties and that we can listen to “River” at Triple J radio they look amazed: “People listen to us in Australia? That’s so cool!”
For now, no one recognises them in the street and they are very happy with that. “We prefer that people know our music more than our faces.”
And it’s with the clip River, directed by Ed Morris, that they bring a new visual perspective on female singers. “We wanted to analyse how female artists want to be seen those days. That by viewing our clip, people wouldn’t say ‘oh look, they are so hot, they wear make up, have nice hair, etc’ but actually say ‘how did they do this, under water?’ Because as young women, it’s hard to be ‘different’ in this industry. And we wanted to twist that image.”
In the end, what they most feel lucky about is all the amazing artists they meet. Like King Krule, that they casually call Archy. “Yeah he’s our buddy! He even comes to see us in concert now.” Wow. Talk about musical wonders.
But their real life hero is still their mother, without hesitation. “She’s amazing.” And they precise that their first album is dedicated to their late father and sister.
Yes, Ibeyi is a family affair.
Latest EP: Oya, released Aug 7, 2014 at XL Records.
Sounds like: A fusion of everything in this mixtape made by them.
Say what: When they don’t play music, the twins love to go watch movies, the last one in date being Whiplash. For Lisa-Kainde, her dream would have been to be behind a camera. She even has a photography tumblr “Well, almost all the pictures are of Naomi really.”