Music Reviews

Ibeyi Ibeyi

(XL Recordings) Buy it from Insound Rating - 8/10
Ibeyi's self-titled debut is a reflection on family. Whether concerning direct relatives or their heritage, the French-Cuban twin sisters Lisa-Kaindé Diaz and Naomi Diaz have crafted a spiritual, meditative look at life and death. Sung in English and Yoruba, a Nigerian language their ancestors spoke, Ibeyi strips the music to bare essentials, making nearly every word, rhythm and melody count.
The spiritual vibe is there from the start, with Oya. Named after an Orisha, a spirit that reflects a manifestation of God in Yoruba religion, the track sounds like a hymn at the beginning, with a serene vocal/organ melodic overlay. When the backbeat comes in, though, it gives the song a propulsion that pushes it into the extraordinary. It is fitting that Oya is known as the goddess of storms and winds.  If the first half of the song is the sound of wind rushing through a valley, then the second half signals the arrival of the storm. With pounding drums that hit like punches, River is another highlight. Touches of gothic piano and haunted vocals dance together in the background for Lisa-Kaindé's lyircs about spiritually cleansing one's self in the river: "Sink my pains and complaints/Let the river take them, river drown them"
The pain that the sisters are struggling with is the loss of their father, Cuban percussionist Miguel "Angá" Diaz in 2006, and their older sister, Yanira. Miguel's passing is tackled in Behind the Curtain and Mama Says. The former is a gorgeous, fragile piano ballad that puts all the attention on the vocals and lyrics. Most of the song goes by without any rhythm, signaling the missing piece of their lives. But towards the end, the sisters move forward by raising their voices in a passionate chant as the percussion suddenly kicks in. Mama Says is a fantastic standout, taking a minimalist approach with a surprisingly complex rhythm of fingersnaps, cajon and funeral chords. With lines like "The man is gone/And mama says/There is no life without him," it's a beautifully heartbreaking look at how their father's death devastated their mother. 
The simplicity of the lyrics are what make these lines connect. You can feel everything the sisters are going through. On Yanira, the sisters articulate,  "Why did fate make you go? Will we meet in heaven, meet in heaven?", sung in harmony by the twins, a cry for their lost sister.
The duo's emotional  directness is only matched by the album's musical inventiveness. Ghosts fuses a hip hop beat, jazzy piano , airy harmonies and electronic flourishes into something more than the sum of its parts. Think of You uses sickly sweet strings that sound like the dark underside to a 1950s film soundtrack. The groovy Stranger/Lover combines a body-moving rhythm with a slippery piano and a hi-hat put high in the mix, almost sounding like a guitar.
With such masterful creativity and an ability to connect with listeners emotionally, no matter what language they are singing in, Ibeyi may have already released the debut album of the year. You will be hard pressed to find another artist who is not only fully-formed from the outset, but also sounds like they have no limit in the directions they can go.