Franco-Cuban duo Ibeyi sound like something out of a labyrinthine subterranean setting. Naomi and Lisa-Kaindé Díaz, who took the Yorúbá term meaning the divine spirit that surrounds twins as a moniker, traverse the globe singing songs as haunting as the women and circumstances that created them. The pair’s father was world-renowned conguero and Cuban percussionist Miguel “Angá” Díaz, who passed away when Lisa and Naomi were 11. Their older sister Yanira followed, dying of a brain aneurysm in 2013.
On their self-titled album, Lisa and Naomi, 20, sing to their father, sister and orishas (like in “River”), while weaving together hip-hop, jazz, and electronica. “We believe that art is a spiritual path,” explained Ibeyi, also deeply-rooted in the widely practiced Afro-Cuban religion of Santeria. “A way to connect to ourselves and to others. A way to be present and a way to share.”
Equal parts death, hope, and worship, Ibeyi is a musical ritual as deep as the ocean that separates their two homes of Havana and Paris. It begins and ends with prayer; a solemn request for the kind of miracle that rises from the grave.
VIBE Viva: Your ethnic makeup is a richly diverse one. What was it like growing up in your household?
Naomi: It was really amazing. We grew up surrounded by many different cultures: Cuban, European, North African, and Indian. We are a product of all of what we saw and lived.
Lisa-Kaindé: And we absolutely love it.
Did one culture play a larger role than the other?
Naomi: Yes. We identify as French and Cuban. Those are the two cultures that played a larger role in our lives, because of mom and dad…
Lisa-Kaindé: In the Cuban culture, there is a major Yoruba influence from the legacy of the slaves that were shipped there from Benin and Nigeria, or what used to be Dahomey.
What kind of music were you exposed to as children?
Naomi: As kids, we used to listen to the things the kids our age were listening to like pop and hip-hop. But thanks to our family, we were equally exposed to a much wider range of genres.
Lisa-Kaindé: Our parents used to listen to all kinds of music and take us to all kinds of concerts, from jazz to latin jazz to cuban traditional […] rumba, Yorúbá music, classical music, world music, soul, funk.
Describe your father in one sentence.
Lisa-Kaindé: He was one of the most talented musicians we knew and he had one of the most gorgeous smiles we’d ever seen.
Do you prefer to sing in English or in Yorúbá? How do the experiences differ?
Naomi: We love to sing in both languages. When we sing in Yorúbá, we chant ancient prayers, which feels amazingly good and right because we are preserving our heritage. As for English, it is our own words that we are singing, it’s completely different. What we enjoy most is combining those two sensations.
Why cover Jay Electronica?
Naomi: Hip-hop is a huge influence on me. I listen to hip-hop everyday. When we were in the studio, working on some stuff, we discovered Jay Electronica. Lisa and I fell in love with ”Better in Tune with the Infinite.”
Lisa-Kaindé: Richard Russell, our amazing producer, quickly suggested we cover it. His idea turned out to be great, because reinterpreting the song came very natural to us.
Who else would you like to cover or collaborate with?
Naomi: There are many artists we admire and would love to collaborate with.
Lisa-Kaindé: I’d love to cover Sting!
Naomi: And Kendrick Lamar, Meshell Ndegeocello, James Blake.
What is your relationship with Cuba, today?
Lisa-Kaindé: Cuba is one of our two homes. We have a strong relationship with Cuba because that is where we have a lot of friends and family.
Naomi: We go to Cuba to get reconnected, at least once a year.
Considering your name and what it represents in the Yorúbá culture, would you describe your creative process as a spiritual one?
Naomi: We believe that art is a spiritual path. A way to connect to ourselves and to others. A way to be present and a way to share.
And Santeria? In what ways does religion play a role in your life, in your music…
Naomi: Our father and mother are both initiated. We grew up listening to the yoruba chants and the bata drums and watching our parents’ take care of their home temples. It’s part of what we’ve grown up with, but it’s not the only spiritual path in our family.
Lisa-Kaindé: One of our grandfathers practices Hinduism, one grandmother is Jewish, the other Catholic, and we also have lots of Muslim friends. In the end, we are all one, no matter what culture or religion.
Tell me of a pivotal time in your life during which the content and purpose of your music changed.
Lisa-Kaindé: The content of our music is ever-changing, but the purpose remains the same. Getting to express ourselves, connect and share with people, give hope to our listeners, that is what makes us feel good and what makes this whole thing all worthwhile.
What legacy do you wish to leave behind?
Ibeyi: Every event in our lives, good or bad, is a learning experience. We want people to know that embracing every moment life gives you, no matter how sad or difficult, is what makes a difference.