If there’s ever a perfect reason to twerk, it’s out of delight, and that is exactly what Lisa-Kaindé Diaz and Naomi Diaz, the French-Cuban twins known as Ibeyi, did when an image of their new album Ash appeared on Adele’s Twitter feed with the line: “This is a STUNNING album!”
“We were laughing like children,” says Lisa-Kaindé speaking from Montreal a day after their sold out Brooklyn Steel Show in New York. “We twerked out of joy when that happened.” Adele’s not the only one who has fallen under the bewitching duo’s musical enchantments, celebrity fans include the late Prince, Iggy Pop and the queen bee herself, Beyoncé, who invited the duo to appear in her immaculate visual album, Lemonade. “We’re honoured that she felt a connection to our work,” says Lisa. “It feels like a dream because all of [these people] are artists that we not only love, but respect so much.”
After releasing their acclaimed self-titled debut in 2015, the sisters spent the following two years on the road. For the duo, touring was a dream come true, as well as an eye-opener. As political strife spread throughout the world, they found themselves responding by creating new music. Lisa admits that while they never stop creating —they’ve already written material for their third album — they also knew that this album needed to be meaningful. The duo went into the studio with thirty-two songs, recorded twenty-five then widdled it down to twelve stellar songs.
“Nowadays everything works on hits and singles, but we tried to make a whole [album], and Ash has that strong, middle and end,” she says. “At first we were going to do an album that had nine tracks but we realized that we couldn’t just do nine, we had to include some other tracks because we didn’t want to let them go. But it’s not like a track we just put there in order to make twelve. No! Every single song is essential and says something that we wanted to say.”
We are more than what people say we are. We are more than what they believe we are. And we have power together.
They recorded the album’s final track, “Ash”, first which led the way for the rest of the songs on their sophomore release. “The first day [in the studio] we recorded “Ash” and “Away Away” and never really touched them again,” she explains. “Ash” opened the door for the whole energy of the album. We realized that “Ash” was the kind of album we wanted to make. And that this kind of visceral energy, strong energy, was what we needed to say at that moment.”
So taken by the power of “Ash” they named the entire album after it.
Ash, the album, is dark, intimate and revolutionary, showcasing Ibeyi’s gift for seamlessly intertwining languages (Yoruba, English, French and Spanish), genres (jazz, hip hop, electronic), and stories. Standouts include “When Will I Learn” (which was co-written by Lisa and their mother) and “Transmission” which describes an ethereal experience that evokes Lisa’s divine connection to water—she is daughter of the Yoruban sea goddess Yemaya, Naomi is the daughter of Thunder— and features Meshell Ndegeocello on bass. But Ash’s true strength is derived from balancing moments that are both mournful and celebratory. One of its most powerful tracks “Deathless” addresses a disturbing experience Lisa had at sixteen when a racist French police officer deemed her “afro and dungarees [jeans]” suspicious.
“What was the most shocking thing for me, was not that racist police man because he was an asshole, and there’s assholes everywhere. [But] it was that no one moved. This happened in front of loads of people and no one moved,” she shares, her formerly sing-song voice quickly becoming somber. “I’m sure those people went back to their homes feeling so small and powerless because it happened to all of us.”
“Deathless” is now an anthem that embodies resilience and self-love for all who feel dis-empowered because of the colour of their skin, gender, sexuality, religion or simply for who they are. According to Lisa, it’s an affirmation in addition to a rallying call: “We are more than what people say we are. We are more than what they believe we are. And we have power together,” Lisa roars with delight. “What’s incredible about music is that everything bad that happens to you, you can transform it into something that’s beautiful for others. And then, suddenly, being in pain is not in vain.”
Since 2015 much has changed. Naomi now lives in Paris, and word on the street is that she’s mauling over a possible sportswear line. Lisa resides in London with dreams of hosting her own radio show, as well as one day making soundtracks for films. Living apart has given the sisters time to miss each other, as well as draw from their differing musical influences–Naomi’s range from Trap, Hip Hop to rap, while Lisa gravitates towards jazz, soul and pop ballads–in order to return together and create their inimitable music. They’re currently on the road again and Lisa admits that the challenges of touring continue to be enormous for the body and soul, yet in spite of this, performing in front of a crowd remains a deeply magical experience for them.
“Every night that you’re on stage, you forget,” she says. “I remember a rock star once saying, ‘If after touring you’re not totally depressed or totally joyful. If you haven’t lost 20 Kilos or gained 20 Kilos. If you’re not so tired that you just want to crawl into bed and cry. You didn’t do the job!’ And I love this idea because we give everything, every night. And we receive so much. We’re really lucky to do something that we love.”