To listen to Ibeyi is to be wrapped in a deep, spiritual, musical cleansing. Twin sisters Lisa-Kaindé and Naomi Diaz are the latest artists to have opened the doors of Yoruba culture to the worldwide stage with their blending of pop, electro-soul, and divine tongues.
Last year during their concert in Miami, the power went dark for nearly five minutes. Communicating back and forth in their native French with their sound engineer, they were ready continue the show acapella when suddenly the electricity was restored. Looking about the crowd, you could spot many Yoruba practioniers dressed in head-to-toe white garbs. It is no coincidence the light the sisters project while performing to the exuberant crowd was one that no transmitter could contain.
Last Saturday, the jimaguas kicked off their North American tour in Miami, where they have family including their niece Valérie, for the release of their sophonore album 'Ash' (they dedicate the song 'Valé' from their new album to her). This time, torrential rains caused by a tropical storm forced the duo to change the venue to one indoors. Once again, Ibeyi's hipnotic chants dynamism enthralled the audience.
'Ash' is a bold statement of cultural and political statements carried through melodies of life experiences like unjust arrests and feminist empowerment. Ibeyi uses samples of Michelle Obama and Frida Kahlo's diary excerpts in Spanish. The album is a self-assured project that recounts life experiences, political challenges, and the current human experience. Over the phone, the sisters opened up about their album and the journey of producing it.
Christian Portilla, U-LAB Music: How have you grown as artists since your last project? What has changed for you both?
Naomi: We learned so much in the past three years. We toured for more than two years all around the world and realized that we wanted to make people dance and move, we wanted them to sweat and sing louder.
Lisa-Kaindé: We wanted them fully with us. Body and soul. So when going to the studio to record the new album, we already knew that we wanted the album to sound louder and that we wanted it to be more produced, with hip-hop beats, and more visceral. The one thing that didn't change is the fact that we remained 100 percent true to ourselves and our intuitions. This album feels more assertive in speaking about political, cultural, and world issues.
U-LAB Music: How did you know you were ready to use your platform to speak your mind on these matters?
Naomi: We have been talking about those subjects in our private lives for a long time, but it feels like only now were we ready to talk about it in our songs.
Lisa-Kaindé: In fact, it happened really organically, we didn't plan to talk more about worldly issues, we were just inspired by our times.
U-LAB Music: How did you know which issues you wanted to address and how are they related to you personally?
Lisa-Kaindé: We realized [the issues we would address] when we wrote those songs because Naomi and I needed them. We needed the song 'Deathless'; we needed to sing it and to believe in it. We needed the song 'Transmission' because we needed to feel that bond. We needed 'No Man Is Big Enough for My Arms' to remember that we can do whatever we set our minds to and that we as women are strong.
U-LAB Music: In your creative process how do you each respect or divide the creativity as to not overlap when it comes to decisions of the final work? Or do you find that you both are on the same page creatively when making music?
Naomi: We both have quite defined jobs that are based on our strengths. The ying and the yang. I am rhythm and Lisa is melody. She loves downtempo music, and I am a hip-hop and dancehall fan. We know that to create Ibeyi we both need to walk toward each other and mix our desires and inspirations. We're both sides of the same coin.
U-LAB MUSIC: What new instruments, technology or writing process did you explore when creating 'Ash'?
Lisa-Kaindé: In 'Ash' we explored many directions. 'Me Voy' for example is our first song in Spanish, an "Ibeyireggaeton" in which we invited the amazing Mala Rodriguez, a strong woman, and Spanish rapper. We also wrote a really long track, a musical adventure, called 'Transmission,' with an extract of Frida Kahlo's diary. In some tracks we used auto-tune, which we love to play with as a guitarist would play with distortion. We also explored in terms of production, some songs sound bigger than our first album, some others are minimalistic. Naomi And we invited amazing guests like Kamasi Washington, Chilly Gonzales, Meshell Ndegeocello and La Mala Rodriguez. Each one of them brought magic to the song they played in.
U-LAB MUSIC: Did you return to Cuba throughout the process of making 'Ash'? If so, how did being back "home" make you feel and impact this project?
Naomi: We are always going to Cuba. I need to feel my roots, my father's land. We actually wrote 'Me Voy' after one of the trips to Cuba we did last year.
U-LAB MUSIC: Now that you're more seasoned artists and performers how do you feel about your space in the world? Do you feel you have a sense of responsibility to the world to create or to express? How did you find the balance in relating your music to world issues versus personal or internal life struggles?
Lisa-Kaindé: Our responsibility is to give to our audience an album and show that we are proud of. Being true and generous. That's what music is all about, sharing emotions and pleasure.
Naomi: In our first album, we needed to talk about our family, to write an homage to our deceased sister and father. It helped us a lot to transform grief into something that made us feel better. For our new album Ash, we are influenced by our present.
Lisa-Kaindé and Naomi: We wrote 'Ash' to sing it with you all and to share common energy. That's the highest inspiration.
Ibeyi is currently on tour in North America.