Ibeyi – Who Are They?

Ibeyi are pretty awesome. They are made up of two French/Cuban sisters (Lisa-Kaindé Diaz & Naomi Diaz) who sing in both English and Yoruba and sound like Rihanna (well one of them does). I’m sure a lot of you know this already but for those that don’t, Cuba and Nigeria have a lot of shared history. During the slave trade, West African slaves were brought to Cuba and though they were prisoners in a foreign land, they held tightly on to their beliefs and passed them on to their children and so on. Today you can see remnants of Yoruba culture throughout Cuba – a religion called Santeria is definitely a big one. The fiery and energetic La Lupe, who many bill as one of the greatest salsa singers of all time was also a massive believer of Santeria.

Now if you’re Nigerian, African or Caribbean, you’ve probably heard of the Yoruba language, but apart from the songs of Fela Kuti, the language has never really been introduced to a western audience in a nice, neat, accessible package. Now don’t get me wrong, that thumping, rhythmic African sound is definitely a fixture of western society now. Afrobeats as some would call it, has definitely cemented its place in Europe and the US through popular artists like D’banj, Fuse ODG and P-Square but I’m talking about the language itself not the sound….we don’t tend to hear a lot of it and I feel like Ibeyi are kind of bridging that gap. They sing a substantial amount of their lyrics in Yoruba but musically, they also sound very up-to-date. Their beats are quite minimalist similar to electronic artists like Jamie xx which is funny because they’re both signed to XL records.

The real amazing thing about Ibeyi is that they’re almost like a beautiful anomaly or something, like someone extracted them from a parallel universe. Yoruba people are very spirited (this may be a stereotype but most africans would agree) yet Ibeyi are so chill, so ethereal and gentle…it’s mindboggling! Two indie sounding chics who sing in Yoruba….it just doesn’t compute. They’re like a black CocoRosie but the difference is that they’re really genuine and I’m not trying to shit on Coco but sometimes they come across like caricatures. I love Ibeyi’s stripped back sound; the song Mama Says has one sister playing the piano and the other playing a simple beat on a cajon – that is all, and the song is truly divine. It really captivates you. I had a similar experience the first time I watched a live performance of Maybe Not by Cat Power.

Ibeyi’s EP dropped last year so you can snap that up if you haven’t already and definitely keep your eyes peeled for their debut album this year.