he French-Cuban duo Ibeyi, twin sisters, fuses three continents, four languages and innumerable styles in its music. The Reeperbahn Festival brings this spirit to Hamburg’s Elbphilharmonie. A homage to diversity.
Smoke hangs in the air. The lights of the dark concert hall glow dimly. Song fills the room and all other sounds fall silent. Two women take the stage, solemnly. Each lights a candle. “Welcome to my earth”, this line from the song Ghosts is Lisa-Kaindé Díaz’s greeting to the audience in Hamburg’s Mojo Club. She looks elegant in a simple black dress, a string of wooden beads around her neck. Her twin sister Naomi sits down on a cajon. Her long dark hair curls over her shoulders. Her face is concentrated as she urges on Lisa-Kaindé’s melodic piano-playing with her beats. At intervals she joins in her sister’s clear singing, a nuance deeper, a little rawer.#
“Yoruba is in our veins, it’s a part of us,”
The gig at the Mojo was almost three years ago, the twins’ first guest appearance at the Reeperbahn Festival was in 2014. Since then, the sisters’ extraordinary musical fusion has made them famous even outside the music scene. On “Ash”, their new album, Chilly Gonzales guests on piano, Kamasi Washington on saxophone. The music awakens a range of associations, from R’n’B through jazz, soul, synthie sounds and hip-hop to electro. On “Ash”, Ibeyi experiment more than previously with electronic beats and auto-tune. For all that, the artists’ work is permeated by a spiritual note, fed mainly by the polyphonic, energy-charged Yoruba songs that they intersperse between English, Spanish and French lyrics. The Yoruba are a West African people whose language came to Cuba at the time of the slave trade. The twins inherited the tradition from their parents, and learned the traditional songs of their forefathers in a choir. “Yoruba is in our veins, it’s a part of us,” says Lisa-Kaindé. The name of the band is also Yoruba, Ibeyi means “twin”.
The pair, now 23 years old, grew up in transit between Havana and Paris – their father is of Cuban origin, their mother French. “We wouldn’t make the same music if we were only Cuban,” says Lisa-Kaindé, “France was our gateway to music. We had access to YouTube, to exhibitions, to art and culture”. From the time they were small, they went to his shows with father Miguel Angá Diaz – he was a virtuoso percussionist who played with such greats as the Buena Vista Social Club. He died of a heart attack when the sisters were eleven. That was when Naomi was beginning to play the cajon and Lisa-Kaindé to write her own lyrics.
“We wouldn’t make the same music if we were only Cuban,”
While the band’s debut album was about past, origins and loss, “Ash” is a messenger of its time. It’s about racism, repression and injustice. “When the album was being created we were depressed about what was happening in the world. Nevertheless, we want to pass on hope. We want to communicate the feeling that everyone has the power to change something in the world. With our shows, we want to encourage the audience to discuss these topics,” says Lisa-Kaindé.
However, that doesn’t make Ibeyi’s concerts in any way contemplative. Their performances are intoxicating, with singing and dancing to the point of ecstasy. It’s unlikely that the style of the live performance will change much even at the Elbphilharmonie: “We’ll just ask the audience in Hamburg if they want to stand up”.