French Cuban duo Ibeyi release their self-titled debut, a selection of tracks combining percussion, African beats and harmonising vocals.
Harmonising with such precision that you have to be reminded that you are actually listening to a duo rather than a solo artist, 19 year old twins Naomi and Lisa-Kainde Diaz (under the moniker Ibeyi, meaning ‘twins’) should be commended for their ability to command a listener’s attention with strong vocals and a sweetness that belies the depth of their lyrics. Musically, Naomi’s control of the percussion instruments, the Cajon and the Batas, when combined with Lisa’s piano playing, is a testament to the belief that music does run in the genes.
In homage to their late father, renowned Cuban percussionist Anga Diaz, Ibeyi experiments with tribal melodies, infused with percussion and their own brand of modern pop to create their debut self-titled album (produced by Richard Russell) and a sound that is uniquely their own. Really, it is difficult to classify them in a particular genre as, at certain times, their music is a cross-section of a few.
It is not at all surprising that the duo has been keenly affected by loss in their song writing for this album. Oya sees the duo calling for the strength of the Yoruban goddess of the same name, to see them through times of adversity. Featuring lyrics such as ‘It pisses me off, it drives me mad that she lets herself feel so bad.’, Mama Says laments the injustices of their father’s sudden passing, and its consequential effect on their mother.
In the refrain of Missy Higgins or Kate Miller-Heidke, Stranger/Lover is perhaps the most upbeat of tracks and one that is potentially the most commercial of the album. Similarly, songs such as Singles and Faithful, though somewhat different to your average pop song, may do well on radio, given half a chance.
Though listening to an album heavily influenced by hurt may seem a little morbid, in this unusual mesh of genres, Ibeyi have created a sound that could easily find a place amongst artists featured in the beloved So Frenchy So Chic line-up. Certainly, when all is said and done, they have a collection of powerful tracks of which they can be proud.
Such subtle ability to create a great track is perhaps why this duo has done so well in Europe, supporting Chet Faker in a sold out Germany show later this year before moving onto sold out shows of their own. Recently, their first live television performance on Later with Jools Holland was well-received and their Ed Morris-directed music videos for River and Mama Says have created a buzz helping to expand the duo’s fan base.
Ibeyi aren’t the next Beyonce or The Veronicas, but played to the right audience, they are sure to do well. Maybe their debut album is the addition you never knew your music collection was missing.
Ibeyi’s self-titled album is available now through XL Recordings.
(This article first appeared on cargoART Magazine 2014. Image Courtesy of artist’s Facebook.)