ALBUM REVIEW: Ibeyi – Ibeyi



ALBUM REVIEW: Ibeyi – Ibeyi

The first I heard of Ibeyi was their third single Mama Says, a beautiful, but heartbreaking song about the passing of their father at 45 and their mother’s reaction to it. “It pisses me off, it drives me mad / That she let’s herself feel so bad” sings Lisa-Kainde Diaz. That’s not poetry, but raw emotion and this album has a lot of it.

Ibeyi are Cuban-French 20-year-old twin sisters living in Paris. In Mama Says you get the essence of the Ibeyi sound: the piano, the percussion, Liza-Kainde’s emotional and unpolished voice and chants in Yoruba, all put together in unexpected ways: while Ibeyi have undoubtedly their roots in African-Cuban music, they also reach over into the very contemporary sound that the likes of FKA twigs or Banks are doing.

That is already a excellent starting point, but the album is much more diverse than that. While the openers Eleggua (Intro), Oya and Ghost kick off the record with a strong acoustic vibe, the direction changes with River and Think of You, both dominated by thundering bass drums. Then there is Stranger/Lover, an Ibeyi-ized variant of a jazzy pop song, which would have probably been the lead single on a lesser album. And they can go full electronic too, as in Weatherman, driven by a glitchy synth line. I don’t think I’ve ever heard an album that has such a strong sense of style and is yet full of surprises.

Large parts if this is thanks to the production by XL Recordings label-owner Richard Russell himself: you can hear every note of every instrument. Naomi Diaz’ percussion resembles more a thumping electro beat than an acoustic instrument and subtle electronics and samples add an exciting counterpart to the traditional elements of the album. Then there is an incredible sense of intimacy in this album: listen to Behind the Curtain on headphones and you feel like you sit right between the sisters as they sing their harmonies.

But it is the vocals that grabs me the most. They feel incredibly personal and close and after hearing their album a few times, it feels like the Ibeyi sisters are good friends. Lisa-Kainde does most of the singing, but Naomi adds accents here and there with her slightly different timbre. Lisa-Kainde also claims all writing credits, except and some lyrics, which she co-wrote with her mother Maya Dagnino.

2015 is still young, but I know that Ibeyi will remain my favorite album of the year for quite some time.