French-Cuban twins sisters make an early dash for the album of the year gong
We’ve heard the thrumming chant of the intro, ‘Eleggua’, and we’re into the first track proper, ‘Oya’. About two and half minutes in, it rolls out a gentle crackle, that delicious, familiar crackle your favourite vinyl album makes as the needle drags the groove for the umpteenth time. Then, out of nowhere, an infectious tribal groove kicks in. Even on the strength of the first couple of tracks of this debut album, it’s a record that should end up owning 2015.
Ibeyi (apparently pronounced “ee-bey-ee”) are 19-year-old twin sisters Naomi and Lisa-Kaindé Diaz. Something old meets something new, their music is the result of seemingly disparate cultures rubbing seductively up against each other. Their mother is Venezuelan, their father is the late Cuban percussionist Anga Diaz. His family were descended from Nigeria, from where traditional Yorùbán chants arrived in Cuba aboard the slave ships. Centuries later, the sisters grew up listening to their mother singing these chants. And if that doesn’t seem quite heady enough already, the two girls, while born in Cuba, were brought up in Paris.
So what we get is the soul-loving Lisa-Kaindé on piano and hip hop buff Naomi on percussion, using the kit their late father made his own. If you’ve always thought that the cajón, a sort of tea chest box of tricks you sit on and play with your hands, is a quirky distraction, Ibeyi would like a word.
‘Ghosts’ almost sounds like two songs in the mix. The percussion is a deeply satisfying low rumble, the piano a tiptoe-tug at your coattails. ‘River’, with its haunting aaaaah-aaaahs and deeply infectious groove, is a blinder. Over the top of the backing tracks, Ibeyi switch their lyrics from English to Yorùbán and back again, and it’s the delivery of the ancient rhythmic chanting that really gets the hairs a-bristle. In places, they are peak-of-her-powers Björk-grade goosebump good. And just as Ms Guðmundsdóttir channels the mystical quirk of her homeland through blips and beeps, so the twins similarly deliver. See ‘Yanira’, with its sweet melody and electronic pip-pip-pip percussion. What’s more, the shizz that Ibeyi are dealing with straddles the continents.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking this is some arch electronic/soul hybrid, though. Listen to tracks like the off-kilter pop belter ‘Stranger/Lover’ and you’ll realise the potential that XL boss Richard Russell heard when he signed the group. Russell takes the production hot seat here himself, by the way. It’s also at work in songs such as ‘Faithful’, all low-slung bass rattling the window glass and heartbreak lyrics.
Sometimes we wonder why we even bother to tell you all this. By the time you read it, you will little doubt be fully Ibeyi compliant. Won’t be able to move for the buggers. Bit early for an album of year contender, isn’t it?