NXNE 2015: Ibeyi

Twin sisters balance heaviness and lightness in their percussive, soulful sound

IBEYI at Mod Club (722 College), Wednesday (June 17), doors 7 pm. $22. NXNE.

Sometimes the best music is akin to a prayer. Take Ibeyi. The Paris-based duo of twin sisters Naomi and Lisa-Kaindé Diaz began playing together after their father, Miguel “Angá” Diaz, a well-known conguero and percussionist for the Bueno Vista Social Club, passed away of a heart attack in 2006. Lisa-Kaindé started to write songs at the piano, and eventually Naomi joined on the cajón (a box-shaped drum Angá was fond of near the end of his life) and the batá (a double-headed drum).

Ibeyi’s powerful self-titled debut – sad and mournful but also life-affirming – was recorded with help from XL label boss Richard Russell, who discovered the twins on YouTube. It addresses not only the loss of their father, whose drumming is sampled on Think Of You, but also of their older sister, Yanira, who died of a stroke in 2013.

The album fuses sparse piano pop with traditional Yoruba chanting, downbeat electro production and jazz flourishes, bringing together disparate influences like the Roots, Billie Holiday, Nina Simone and, at times in Lisa–Kaindé’s vocals, Björk. The sisters call their music “contemporary Negro spirituals,” which is often the case, whether they’re addressing the Orisha (or deity) of Oya (change, destruction), Oshun (love, rivers, fertility)  or the plight of single women going home late alone (Singles).

There’s an interplay of heaviness and lightness at work: the music often sounds thick with vocals and percussion, and Lisa-Kaindé’s and Naomi’s harmonies are raw and arresting, especially on the chants. The introspective piano ballads, meanwhile, provide sweetly quiet interludes.

music@nowtoronto.com | @sarahgreene

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