Jane Cornwell speaks to the French-Cuban sister duo who are blending Cuban and electronic music
Lisa-Kaindé is the sensitive one with the Afro. Naomi has the long dark curls and the attitude. The former plays piano; the latter plays the batá drum and the cajón. Both sing, though Lisa-Kaindé is the lead voice, their vocals swooping and dipping through songs sung in Yoruba and English.
Their rhythms are traditional, rooted in Cuba and Africa. There’s jazz in there, too. And beats. Startling, unearthly synth samples skitter and hop. Weave together all the above and you have Ibeyi – a sister act whose self-titled debut has ranked them among the most talked about newcomers on the scene.
A gig at Islington Town Hall in May was rammed with hipsters keen to check out the fuss. To experience live the French-Cuban duo whose video for second single ‘The River’ shows the sisters underwater, in close-up, taking turns to have their heads pushed underwater while the other sings. Ibeyi deliver over an hour of sometimes patchy, always mesmerising electro-soul, with Naomi straddling and slapping the boxy cajón before leaping up and getting the crowd to clap along.
‘Let’s remember with rhythm our loved ones that are gone,’ they intone. ‘We walk on rhythm and think of you.’ Like many of the tracks on the album, the song ‘Think of You’ is a paean to their late father, the great Cuban conguero Anga Díaz, a one-time member of Irakere and the Buena Vista Social Club who died aged 46, when his twins were 11 years old. To pile tragedy on tragedy, their older sister died a few years later. “Singing saved me,” Lisa-Kaindé has said. “I realised I could lose everyone, but at least I could survive.”
Their French-Venezuelan mother and manager, singer Maya Dagnino, encouraged Lisa-Kaindé’s songwriting and their interest in the Yoruba chants, prayers and folk songs of their ancestors; their name is inspired by the Yoruba word for twins, ibeji.
“Twins are really important in the Yoruba villages [of Nigeria and Benin] because of mythology and legends,” Lisa-Kaindé again. “Yoruba is important for the two of us. We are taking religious songs and putting them in our music, which is spiritual. We are doing this because we love this music, we believe it is our identity, we feel it’s our legacy and it’s a way to connect with our ancestors.”
Electronica is equally important, say the Paris-based 20 year olds. Twins with twin influences, who grew up in a modern metropolis listening to the likes of English electronic music producer James Blake and American singer and rapper Frank Ocean; they perform a cover of rapper Jay Electronica’s ‘Better in Tune With the Infinite’ in their sets. British indie producer Richard Russell of XL Recordings – home to FKA Twigs and Radiohead – is behind the deft electro touches on the album. It’s these, along with the girls’ stunning looks and justified-and-ancient vibe, which is making the Zeitgeist proud.
According to Naomi, “it is who we are. We’re not putting this on. You cannot have Ibeyi without having both of these sides. They’re what complete us.”
+ ALBUM Ibeyi’s debut album was reviewed in #109
+ DATE Ibeyi will perform at WOMAD Charlton Park on July 24