Ibeyi, a reference to the Yoruba word for twins, is the name of the diaphanous electronic soul act of twin sisters Naomi Diaz and Lisa-Kaindé Diaz. The sisters were born in Cuba and raised in Paris; now Lisa lives in London, and Naomi lives in Paris. Their music features a fluid interchange of language that evokes their background: French, English, Spanish, and Yoruba all appear on their September 2017 album Ash. After releasing this deeply textured album, the pair are spending the summer pursuing collaborative projects with other artists; last month, they collaborated with Brazilian rapper Emicida on the song “Hacia El Amor.”
Their musical world is lit by Ibeyi’s sense of collage, of language, styles, and voices. Particularly on their song “Transmission/Michaelion,” the twins interweave audio clips, like Claudia Rankine reading from Citizen: An American Lyric and their mother reading passages from Frida Kahlo’s diary. Their sense of collaboration is rich, and their collaborators are peerless: Meshell Ndegeocello plays bass on “Transmission/Michaelion”; Kasami Washington lends his saxophone on the ghostly “Deathless.” Their work is explicitly about resilience, and they are singing with resistance. The twins are continuing to bolster their work with new musical styles — on their song with Emicida, they added Portuguese to their flow. These combinations inform Ibeyi’s music with a sense of futuristic expression that pulls from their past and reimagines something more Utopian.
“Transmission/Michaelion” is the centerpiece of Ash, and the brand-new music video crystallizes the ambitious poetic history in Ibeyi’s project. Images of the twins appear as transparent layers on top of a landscape that shifts from desert to stars in washes of blue and purple. The video is subtitled with passages that fuse ecological history and legend. There are so many elements to attend to that as soon as you start to watch the video, you’re filled with the impulse to immediately watch it again.
For Lenny Letter, I talked with the sisters about their influences while cozy inside their tour bus, a few hours before their show with Red Bull’s 30 Days in Chicago this past winter. Now, two seasons later, they have released the music video for “Transmission/Michaelion,” premiering below.
Maggie Lange: One of my favorite things about your work is your incorporation of many different languages. When you’re singing something in a certain language, in French or English or Spanish or Yoruba, does that change the content of the song for you?
Lisa-Kaindé Diaz: Yeah, it does. But it’s really natural. It’s rare that we go to the piano and we’re like, I’m gonna write a Spanish song. We feel like thinking about it will take out the spontaneity. And so we don’t force it. That’s our one rule. For example, “Me Voy” couldn’t have been in English.
Naomi Diaz: It was meant to be in Spanish. And there’s some songs that even now, like when we perform “Oya,” the slate will be (sings in French). I feel like it couldn’t have been in English, or in Spanish either. There’s some really special moments that happen.
ML: Can I ask a question that I feel like is maybe too simplistic? I know lots of twins, and I read “I Wanna Be Like You” as being about a twin relationship. Is it?
LKD: It was not about that at first. It was about a little girl that I used to babysit. And she was incredible. When we went to the studio, Richard, our producer, also said, “Oh, I love that song you wrote about Naomi.” I didn’t understand what song he was talking about. And then I was like, “Oh, that is way better. Of course!” It needed to be about Naomi. And so I tweaked it.