Pitchfork (Website) - "Instrumentally, their music is sparse. But it always feels full, with emotion and the kind of spirituality that is as deep as the people and circumstances that created it."
Ibeyi is the self-titled debut album from Cuban-born, French-raised twins Lisa-Kainde and Naomi Diaz. The daughters of Cuban percussionist Miguel "Angá" Diaz (who was a performing member of the Buena Vista Social Club) and Venezuelan mother Maya began making music upon their father's passing in 2006. After XL label boss Richard Russell caught their video for "Mama Says," he tracked them down in Paris' Montparnasse neighborhood and signed them. The recording is the first to come from the label's brand new London studio. Ibeyi's sound is deliberately sparse, as reliant on Santerian religious chants as it is on 21st century Euro soul. Lisa-Kainde sings lead and plays piano; Naomi sings harmony and plays West African drums -- cajón and batá -- both elemental parts of the Afro-Cuban musical lineage. The sisters sing in both English and Yoruban, the latter inherited from their father's spiritual and cultural heritage. Russell is not just the album's producer but an anchor, a collaborator, and a guide. His snaky synths, samples, and beats are used sparingly but add an earthy depth to the otherworldly characteristics in Ibeyi's music. The set opens with a chant to Eleggua -- the orisha (deity) who opens the roads of all things in the Santeria religion. It is followed by what amounts to a soulful, hymn to "Oya," the goddess of winds and storms. Ibeyi move to more earthly concerns with an elliptical piano wed to the ground with layered, organic drums in the erotically charged, ironically titled "Ghosts." "River," with its fat, distorted, low-end bass drums, ethereal funky guitars, and piano vamp is infectious with a dark, souled-out vocal. This direction continues on "Stranger/Lover," with its driving synth bassline, lisping hi-hat, cajon, and spidery piano lines. Lisa-Kainde delivers a jazzy soul vocal. Simultaneously, "Mama Says" recounts their mother's grief after the passing of Anga and their own exhortation to her to go on living. Framed by funereal piano, reverb-laden bata and cajon, and sparse piano, the sisters again invoke Eleggua in the skeletal bridge. "Yanira" evolves from broken-hearted want to open-hearted affirmation. Ibeyi's sound has no direct referent, though their music would be right at home with other artists of the electro doom soul generation, from FKA Twigs to BLK JKS to Benjamin Clementine. Their songs of family, love, lust, and spirit pair perfectly entwined and complementary voices. The musical and sonic palettes reflect both the world of human existence -- ancestry and physical geography -- and the "other" realm that informs it -- a doorway of feelings and senses that is invisible yet ever present. ~ Thom Jurek