Ibeyi’s Ghost Stories

by A.R. Canzano

When I listen to Ibeyi, I imagine myself floating along on a slow-moving river illuminated by campfires at twilight. On the shore, two women are singing. They might be ghosts, and they sing spirit-songs.

Ibeyi is the name of Lisa-Kaindé and Naomi Díaz, a pair of 20-year-old French-Cuban twins based in Paris. Their father was the Cuban percussionist Angá Diaz of groups including Buena Vista Social Club. They sing in English and Yoruban (the language of the Yoruba people of West Africa), with a bit of French. They combine elements of jazz, electronic, and hip-hop with Afro-Cuban influences and chilling harmonies. The resulting sound is dark, complex, spiritual, and utterly unique. Although their self-titled album combines an array of diverse influences, it proves to be cohesive in its themes of family, love, and spirituality. The sparse instrumentation highlights the spiritual and emotional depths of the songs, and the otherworldly voices of the duo. “Mama Says” begins with piano chords and clap­ping, to which they add a bass-heavy beat.

In fact, Ibeyi do sing of spirits: in this case, the Orishas such as Eleggua, a god associated with cross­roads and doors—liminal spaces to which one might connect the multivalently-influenced sisters themselves. Many of the songs have repetitive lyrics, such as the repetition of “take me, Oya” in the song “Oya.” But the repetition lends a hypnotic quality to the songs. Thus, listening on repeat is a joy. The songs are not necessarily trancelike, but rather baptismal, and often catchy—like the chorus of “River.” They sing of ghosts, too: to their mother and father in “Think of You,” and in the song “Ghosts:”

My ghosts are not gone

They dance in the shade

And gives the black core of my heart

making words making sounds making songs.

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