French Twins Ibeyi Combine Jazz, Synths, and Nigerian Lyrics


Paris-based twin sister duo Ibeyi released a truly fresh album this week. On their self-titled debut album, Lisa-Kaindé and Naomi Diaz combine soul, jazz, and Afro-Cuban traditional rhythms with electronic beats. Since the release of the strange and unnerving video for their single “River,” I have been waiting anxiously for more gorgeous music from the pair.

Lisa-Kaindé and Naomi were born and have lived in Paris for most of their lives while their mother, who is Venezuelan, introduced them to Nigerian language Yoruba.  Ibeyi is the Yoruba word for “Twins” and it is no surprise that the Diaz women make tunes that balance one another. Lisa sings lead vocals and plays piano while Naomi plays Afro-Cuban percussion instruments, the cajón and batá, which ground Ibeyi’s music. Producer Richard Russel also adds samples, synthesizers, and other electronic elements to the album. The result is an addictive album of  soulful vocal harmonies and innovative beats that showcase a broad spectrum of emotion.

Ibeyi make many references to their Afro-Cuban heritage throughout their album: The album begins with “Ellegua,” a named for the Yoruban spirit that represents both life’s beginning and end.  On their song “Oya,” harmonies drone melodically as Lisa sings and an electronic synth waves in and out.  The lyrics are haunting: “Even if I feel the sun on my skin everyday/If I don’t feel you/Even if I feel the most beautiful things up in the sky/If I don’t see you.” Distorted and delayed interludes in French interrupts the song before a stifled cymbal crashes and the rhythms become louder, the layering of language and instrumentals is unique and refreshing. I’m not exaggerating when I say that this song gives me goosebumps.

Another gem on this album is “Weatherman,” which begins with Naomi and Lisa harmonizing as a strange, flute-like instrument sings distorted arpeggios beneath their vocals. Nature acts as a character on this song and the weatherman knows what is to come as the seasons change along with life’s circumstances. Meanwhile, songs like “Stranger/Lover” and “River” provide upbeat contrast to some of the slower, lulling songs on this album.

The pair's influences are expansive, but the scope of this album is focused and deliberate, exploring memory, love, loss, and the ties of tradition and family. “Think of You” provides a thoughtful tribute to the Diaz sisters’ father, percussionist Anga Diaz, who died when Lisa and Naomi were 11 years old. Keys and hot jazz tinge the borders of this track as the twins sing, “We walk on rhythm and we think of you.”

This album blends a multitude of influences into something completely enthralling. In addition to Afro-Cuban influences, you can detect hints of Billie Holiday and Nina Simone in Ibeyi’s vocals that can be both delicate and tough, fathomless, and soaring. A good artist has to pick and choose bits and pieces of their inspiration to create their perfect mix. Ibeyi’s debut album is one to savor. Sit back, relax, and let the different sounds and flavors hit your ears. Together, they create complex music that is hard to resist.

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by Miriam W. Karraker
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Miriam W. Karraker earned her BA in religious studies and French from Lewis & Clark College. She is currently an MFA candidate in poetry at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. 


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