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Ibeyi at the North Beach Bandshell
IBEYI (pronounced ee-bey-ee) means “twins” in the language of the Yoruban culture of Lisa-Kainde and Naomi Diaz. The twins’ roots are reflected in the polyglot nature of the lyrics — in English, French and Yoruban — and music which combines ritual chants with synths and samplers, jazz vocals with the spellbinding mystery of Björk and Fever Ray, the traditional with the modern. Their 2015 debut was an international sensation, appearing atop countless year-end best-lists.
Lisa-Kainde and Naomi (the eldest by two minutes) were born in Paris, where they still live, but spent their first two years in Cuba. Their father was Miguel “Anga” Diaz, the member of the Buena Vista Social Club, who was acclaimed as the greatest conga player of his generation.
Anga’s death from a heart attack in 2006, when he was just 45 and the twins were 11 (they are now 21), was a traumatic event. It was also, indirectly, the birth of the band. The day after he died, Naomi began playing his latest favourite percussion instrument, the box-shaped cajón. At 14, Lisa-Kainde made her stage debut, as a guest of a family friend, the Paris-based Cuban musician Raul Paz, alone at the piano. Record producer and XL Recordings boss Richard Russell first encountered Ibeyi when he saw them performing Mama Says on a 2013 YouTube video. “When we stepped in his studio, we instantly felt at home. XL know how to work with young artists and let them grow.” Broadly speaking, Lisa-Kainde wrote the melodies and lyrics, sometimes with input from Maya or her uncle, and Naomi and Russell added the arrangements and atmosphere.
As well as the cajón, Naomi plays the batá, an hourglass-shaped, double-headed drum. Their music is a subtle melange of diverse influences: not just Lisa-Kainde’s soul and jazz leanings and Naomi’s up-to-the-minute beatmaking but the bloodlines of France, Cuba and Africa, including the use of Yoruban chants they first heard in the Santeria ceremonies.