French-Cuban duo Ibeyi on their mixed music and background
Earlier this year Ibeyi, the French-Cuban musical duo consisting of twin sisters Lisa-Kaindé Diaz and Naomi Diaz, visited Philadelphia to promote their eponymous debut album and record a live set for WXPN.
Tonight, Ibeyi is back in the city for a concert at World Cafe Live, where they will be singing songs like “River,” “Mama Says,” and “Ghosts” in English and Yoruba — an African language brought to Cuba by the same slaves who brought their ‘orishas’ or gods and which led to the presence of Santeria in the island.
In the Yoruba language Ibeyi translates as “twins". The sisters were born in Paris but have lived in Cuba and visit the island every year. Their father was the famed Cuban percussionist, Anga Díaz, of Buena Vista Social Club. Their mother is French-Venezuelan singer, Maya Dagnino.
Their music has elements of Yoruba, French, and Afro-Cuban and fuses jazz with beats, samples with traditional instruments. Lisa-Kaindé is the lead voice and also plays piano while Naomi plays traditional Cuban percussion instruments cajón and Batá drum.
In interview with AL DÍA, Ibeyi talked about how their mixed cultural background is reflected in their music; singing in English and Yoruba but not in Spanish and French; living between Paris and Havana; growing up in an artistic family; and life on stage.
Here’s what Ibeyi had to say:
About their mixed background and their mixed music:
“We grew up between France and Cuba, between Paris and Havana. We never tried to mix music, it came naturally to us, it was just in our ears. When you are listening to a lot of Yoruba, to a lot of occidental music, and we started composing, everything just mixed. We never thought of doing it that way but we thought the result was beautiful. We are proud of being a mix and we are proud of doing music that has different influences.”
About singing in English instead of French or Spanish:
“Our main language is French but we listen to a lot of English and American music. Our first song was in English, I don’t know why, It just was like that. I would love to sing in Spanish or French but I’m not going to push it. It has to come naturally. I’m praying for it to come.”
About singing in Yoruba:
“There is something special about those chants. When you are singing a song that was sung by millions of people before you, you really feel something deep.”
About living between Paris and Havana:
“It’s a blessing to have two different worlds in your life, two ways of thinking, two different ways of seeing life, and mixing that in your head is a bit strange. In Paris we have friends who are really rich and in Cuba we have friends who have nothing. It really makes you think and it makes you grow up a bit faster. I always say that being a mix of cultures is the best because you are not afraid about someone who is different.”
About growing up in an artistic family:
“From our father we knew that living with passion was something great and beautiful. He never taught us music but of course he had an influence in us. We are mixing a lot of music because we think the music that we are doing defines us. Our mother is really important. She is the one that took us to the Yoruba choir in Paris, she is the one that sat next to us when we did classical music, she is the one that helped us through everything. The first time I wrote a song it was because I was bored and she was like ‘you should write a song,’ so I basically did it because she told me.”
About life on stage:
“Life chose for us. I was pretty sure I was going to be music teacher but then Richard Russell (owner of British record label XL Recordings) heard ‘Mama Says’ and everything changed. I got kicked out of music school and I had to stop going to university because I was doing so many concerts. When your whole life changes in four months, you freak out, but then I thought ‘let's do this.’ When you are performing those two hours on stage are unbelievable. You receive a lot and you give a lot. It’s one of the best things in life, to live with passion.”