Ibeyi stay hopeful in a world gone mad on Ash

The French-Cuban twins merge tropical rhythms, lush vocals and story-rich lyrics on their soul-searching new album

Ibeyi’s eponymous 2015 debut was a deep dive within, exploring family legacies, loss and unhealed wounds backed by thrilling electronic beats and soulful vocals. Ash sets their gaze outward: how, ask the French-Cuban twins, do we stay hopeful in a world that’s mad? 

In that way, it’s a spiritual companion to Beyoncé’s Lemonade and Solange’s A Seat At The Table, merging the political with the personal. Even Ash’s artwork displays the sisters united yet shattered. They’ve grown separately yet closer together, and longing is inescapable. 

“I ache for home” sings Lisa-Kaindé Diaz on Numb, while I Wanna Be Like You, laments lost childhood innocence. Deathless (featuring Kamasi Washington on saxophone) shares Lisa-Kaindé’s harrowing experience with French police but is buoyed by fearless hope, making you marvel at Ibeyi’s ability to turn tragedy into something empowering.

There are a couple of missteps. No Man Is Big Enough For My Arms intermingles former U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama’s speech on the value of women and girls with the twins’ vocals but lands on the preachy side. Waves draws from the sisters’ powerful connection to water but heavy-handed melancholy in the lyrics and performance makes it dreary. 

These moments are fleeting. Transmission’s “I don’t know what the water wanted” from poet Claudia Rankine’s audiobook Citizen: An American Lyric, aided by Meshell Ndegeocello on bass and Maya Dagnino reading from the Diary Of Frida Kahlo, is a gorgeous multi-level experience. When Will I Learn is intensely immediate due to the strength of Naomi’s cajón and Batá skills. Numb elegantly follows, making the two feel like one incredible track.

The album has tropical rhythms, lush vocals, story-rich lyrics and words in Yoruba, English, French and Spanish, making it a dynamic experience. Nothing about it is slapdash or insignificant. These are songs that can only emerge from the souls and mouths of these two sisters, an organic extension of their lives, beliefs and traditions. When the album is taken as a whole, its full beauty is floodlit – a rare experience in the age of singles.

Top track: When Will I Learn

Ibeyi play the Phoenix on November 7. See listing.

music@nowtoronto.com | @ChakaVGrier

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