Mike A. Bryan, Staff Writer
Cuban-French twin sisters Lisa-Kainde Diaz and Naomi Diaz rose to indie fame with breakout performances at SXSW in 2015. The single and video for “River” had already appeared in 2014, ahead of the full album, and garnered critical praise. Not surprisingly, the duo comes from a strong lineage of musicians – their father was a drummer with The Buena Vista Social Club, and their mother was a French-Venezuelan singer. For those of you unfamiliar with The Buena Vista Social Club, please refer to the movie and album from the late 1990’s. This group embodies the variety of music that makes up the Cuban soundscape, and is a great introduction to the complexity of the rhythms of the Afro-Cuban sound.
The twins were born and raised in France, but with frequent trips and extended time spent in Cuba, they sing in English, Spanish, French and a native Cuban tongue—Yoruba. Their music is just as complex, combining ideas of jazz, neo-soul, trip hop, and downtempo R&B layered with Afro-Cuban percussion.
The self-titled debut album, Ibeyi, came out not long after the legendary SXSW shows, and did not disappoint. It was spooky, haunting, layered, heavy percussion-fueled psychedelic darkness made pretty by the amazing duo’s vocals. Apparently, much of the album is dedicated to relatives that have passed, lending a personal feel to the music that draws the listener in. The new album is more restrained, focusing on lighter, more ethereal feelings in a surrealist sound landscape. Still present are the layered vocals, sonic loops, and sparse drum machines, but this time the keys are more synthy. Some tracks feature choir-esque vocals, and many are in English. A standout track is the female-power anthem “No Man Is Big Enough for My Arms,” where the duo chant behind a sample of the voice of Michelle Obama speaking about the misogyny prevalent in our society. The last few tracks of the album have a feel much more akin to their earlier work, starting with “Me Voy.” This is unfortunately, however, a reggaetón-style track, complete with Auto-Tune. Ibeyi is one of those singular duos that does not need such technology to make their vocals sound perfect. That being said, this track is head-bobbing, radio-friendly, and may pop up on your favorite radio station or streaming service.
One might wonder if this complex music is reproducible live, but fear not! The SXSW performances and other festival shows have proven that Ibeyi can not only perform these songs live, but they make them even better. Recordings of the first album songs played live at various venues in 2015 in Austin are all unique, compelling, and impressive. They tour extensively, and are currently in Europe. Although they will not be in St. Louis anytime soon, both of the albums are worth checking out. The sound they produce is unique and fresh, when most other popular music today sounds recycled and repetitive. Do yourself a favor and check this duo out—you will not be disappointed.