By Sahil Laul
On February 17, 2015, the French-Cuban twin duo Naomi and Lisa Kainde Diaz, otherwise known as Ibeyi (ee-bey-ee), debuted their self-titled album. Strongly influenced by their late father, Anga Diaz, a Cuban Percussionist, the two pay homage to his Yoruba culture by alluding to Yoruba tales in their songs and singing in their native language. Their name, Ibeyi, means twins in Yoruba and references the fact that the Yoruba people have the highest twinning rate in the world.
The album, characterized by raw vocals and minimalist beats, hails the listener into a new world filled with sorrow and celebration. Naomi, on the percussive instruments, the Cajon and the Batas, and Lisa, on the piano, seamlessly combine aspects of traditional Cuban music with modern beats and looping technology to create a sound that transcends every boundary of traditional music.
The most notable tracks of the album are the intro, “Eleggua,” its first single, “Oya,” and “River.” “Eleggua,” sung completely in Yoruba, introduces the listener to the world of Ibeyi and honors Eleggua, one of the most respected deities in the Yoruba religion. The solely vocal track draws the listener in by showcasing the strength and control of the duo’s voices.
“Oya,” the second track on the album, is a hauntingly beautiful song about Oya, the Yoruba goddess of wind and the owner of the underworld and cemeteries. Halfway through the track, there is a transition from soft vocals supported by long background vocal notes to stronger vocals supported by percussive beats. This transition is marked by a bridge sung in French.
“River,” the fourth track on the album, introduces a completely different sound. A more upbeat track, featuring repetitive clapping and stomping beats, “River” is a tribute to the Yoruba goddess Oshun, who is known for healing the sick and bringing fertility and prosperity. In the song, Naomi and Lisa ask Oshun to wash away their sins in her river. Though primarily sung in English, “River” has a Yoruba outro that praises Oshun. Ibeyi eloquently transitions between English, Yoruba, French, and Spanish throughout their songs and their album while simultaneously conveying meaning and feeling to a general audience.
The album tells a story about the twins and their heritage, and like any good story, once you start listening, you can’t stop until you finish it. Whether you are a fan of percussive instrumentals or crisp vocals, modern electronica or traditional blues, this musical frisson-inducing album is a must-listen.