Ibeyi: from Ash rises a louder voice

Two years after their first self-titled album, the twin sisters of Ibeyi came back with Ash, released this past September. Considering how brilliant the first album was, released when they were only 19, the release of Ash aroused high expectations.

Although they were raised in Paris, Lisa-Kaindé Diaz and Naomi Diaz draw their inspiration from their Afro-Cuban origins. Their first album was very personal – in the songs Mama Says and Yanira they grieved the loss of their late father and older sister. The duo sings in English and Yoruba, a language named after the Yoruba population originating from Nigeria. Many travelled to Cuba as slaves in the 18th century. The musical identity of Ibeyi is firmly grounded in this culture – the name of their group references a pair of twins in the Yoruba religion.

They were also influenced by modern music, including jazz and hip-hop. This combination of influences and diverse instrumentation – with Lisa-Kaindé playing the piano and Naomi playing cajón and batá drum – is what makes their music so singular.

Though Ash is less inspired by the family and the culture of the Diaz sisters, it is still undeniably personal. Most of the lyrics are in English, but the cheerful Me Voy is in Spanish, a language notably spoken by their half-Venezuelan mother, herself a singer.

The musical style itself did not really change. While we can notice a slight shift away from Yoruba tribal rhythms and a stronger electro-soul influence, the twins still keep their distinctive stable rhythm. No song in Ash achieves the ethereal fusion of voices as their iconic song River did in the pair’s self-titled debut. This absence of notable musical novelty could place the album slightly below our expectations in spite of its overall quality and the constant depth of their refined music.

But we should not overlook some songs deserving of praise. The standout piece of this album is probably Deathless, a defiant melody inspired by the encounter of Lisa-Kaindé with a racist and brutal police officer when she was young. It is their most committed song and has a great melodic line. Another notable song is No Man Is Big Enough for My Arms which builds on a quote from Michelle Obama promoting women’s right.

Naomi and Lisa-Kaindé will come to London twice as part of their new tour: October 19th at the Shoreditch Town Hall and February 28th at Electric Brixton.
The pair has a good stage presence and initiates a warm connection with its audience. Those two live performances are a good occasion to discover those sisters with meaningful music and a voice which just became louder as they tackle new issues.

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