“You are loved little girl, you are,” sing French-Cuban duo Ibeyi in “Vale,” a single off their new album, “Ash,” released Sept. 29.
In a world where there are so many muddled voices shouting over one another, it’s refreshing to hear voices of clarity aimed right at the feminine psyche and conventional thinking.
Ibeyi, a band that consists of twin sisters Lisa-Kainde and Naomi Diaz, take their incredible voices to sing lullabies and rally cries that embrace and empower its listeners, locking us in a rhythmic and entrancing exclamation of love, equality and life.
“Ash” is a pivotal piece of work for the band, and the album washes over you in waves, flowing back and forth, bringing new and intriguing artifacts to fall in love with.
The album starts off with “I Carried This For Years,” a slow and entrancing intro. It sinks comfortably into “Away, Away,” a charismatic expression of happiness and discovery found only by the young (and young at heart).
There are sprinkles of youthful exuberance throughout the album, but Ibeyi also draw from personal experiences to discuss darker themes in vivid detail including the harrowing tune, “Deathless.”
If there is any testament to a musician’s songwriting ability it’s that one almost feels pulled into a Paris Metro train as lead singer Lisa-Kainde recounts a wrongful arrest when she was 16. You feel her fear just as painful and consuming as it was for Lisa-Kainde as she was roughly handled by a police officer who yelled obscenities at her and shook her purse open, accusing her of selling drugs. His only “suspicion” was her afro and skin color. Lisa-Kainde notes in a BBC interview how hesitant she was to write about her experience and what her sister and bandmate Naomi said to help her.
“I remember saying, ‘Why would I write a song about it? My story is nothing compared to what is happening to people every day,’” Lisa-Kainde said to BBC. “Then Naomi said something quite incredible. She said: ‘Lisa, you don’t need to be raped or be killed for it to be wrong. What happened to you was already wrong.'”
Along with personal experiences, Ibeyi carefully choose spoken word interludes to layer over intricate weavings of jazz inspired instrumentals and hip hop beats. The twins sample speeches from former First Lady Michelle Obama in the song “No Man is Big Enough for My Arms,” the title itself is a reference to Jennifer Clement’s “Window Basquiat,” a poetic biography.
“The measure of any society is how it treats its women and girls,” and other exerts loop, taken from a response from the former First Lady to then presidential candidate Donald Trump’s sexist and crude remarks about sexual assault. Throughout Lisa-Kainde and Naomi echo her sentiments “We create … we can fight … won’t stand still … won’t be shamed.”
Other influential female figures take form in a reading from Frida Kahlo’s diary in “Transmission/Michaelion.” This seven-minute epiphany ebbs and flows in harmonic convergence, making it one of the best songs on the album.
Other songs service as a comforting embrace. “Vale” is a soft lullaby that envelopes you in a dark, velvety night sky. It gives into a vulnerability and stands by your side with unwavering solidarity.
Ibeyi aim not only to move our minds, but our bodies as well. “Me Voy,” the girls first song entirely in Spanish, explodes with rhythm and sensuality, sharpened by the inclusion of Spanish rapper Mala Rodriguez.
“Ash” is also a product of Lisa-Kainde and Naomi’s roots. Born to French-Venezuelan singer Maya Dagnino and Cuban percussionist Anga Diaz, a member of the Buena Vista Social Club, the twins are heavily influenced by their parents – Lisa-Kainde was encouraged by her mother to pursue songwriting and Naomi picked up the bata drums and cajon after her father’s death. Ibeyi sing in Spanish, French, English and Yoruba, a Nigerian language their ancestors spoke before they were taken to Cuba as slaves in the 1700s.
While their music pays homage to their family and culture, Ibeyi leave plenty of room for modern influence (Frank Ocean and James Blake to name a few), allowing antiquity and modernity to collide in beautiful fragments.
“Ash” is an album one listens to many times over – different songs jump out in exclamation each time you go back. It sooths, stirs, awakens and offers its hand in solidarity. Like so many of us, it seems recent events in the past few years have heavily influenced Ibeyi. The result for these young ladies, barely in their early 20s, is an astounding album that leaves no stone unturned.
To hear more from Ibeyi, visit their website.