Yoruba, a West African language that was imported to Cuba in the 18th century due to the slave trade. Yoruba is now the mother tongue of Santería, an Afro-Caribbean religion that fuses elements of Catholicism and West African tradition.
Ibeyi, Yoruban for “twins”, is a French-Cuban musical duo made up of twin sisters, Naomi Díaz and Lisa-Kaindé. Songs are in English and Yoruba, along with the sounds of two Afro-Cuban percussive instruments, the cajón and batá. It’s sultry and cathartic – jazz, soul, and electronic. “That’s something I love about Yoruba,” says Lisa, “—you don’t need to understand the words to feel it.”
Orisha, a deity in Yoruba religion that reflects one of the manifestations of the Supreme Divinity.
Ibeyi begins the album with “Ellegua,” dedicated to the Yoruban orisha spirit of the same name, who represents the beginning and end of life. Without Ellegua’s blessing, nothing else in a Santería ceremony or ritual can proceed.
References to other orishas are immersed in the album, including Oya, Aggayu, Oshun, Shango and Yemaya. The twins names are even aligned perfectly with their respective orishas, which are believed to claim children prenatally according to destiny. Naomi is the daughter of the god of thunder, Shangó, while Lisa is the daughter of the goddess of the sea, Yemaya. Naomi, the percussionist, says of her vocalist sister, “she’s the melody, and I’m the rhythm.”
The song titled, “Think of You” is dedicated to the memory of their father, a Cuban musician who died of a heart attack at age 45, and to the memory of a close friend, also a musician. The twins had asked the permission of the friend’s mother in order to include cuts of his work into this song. “We walk on rhythm” they sing, “and we think of you.” Another song on the album, “Yanira,” is sung in honor of their deceased older sister.
Shortly after the twins were born, their parents moved them from Paris to Havana, where they spent three years before returning again to Paris.“We have one foot inside Cuba and one foot outside,” says Naomi, “I feel as Cuban as French – sometimes more Cuban.”
“The funny thing is that here, when we go to radio, they don’t know where to put us because we’re Latinas, we’re white, and we’re black. And we’re like, we don’t care. Put us everywhere.”—Naomi Diaz, Ibeyi
France, they say, gave them access to soul music, to rap, and to classical music. “If we had grown up in Cuba, we wouldn’t have had access to all the culture we did in France,” Lisa-Kaindé adds. If they stayed in Cuba, Naomi believes, maybe they would’ve only done reggaeton, a popular Caribbean genre.
Ibeyi received a nod from Beyonce; their song “River” was featured in her Instagram post and they also appeared in her latest music video, lemonade.