interview & introduction by Safy-Hallan Farah
illustration by Jeremy Nutzman
layout by Nick Nelson
Naomi and Lisa Kaindé Diaz, twenty-year-old twin sisters of French and Cuban heritage dynamically blend disparate genres - downtempo, soul, jazz and hip hop - from across the diaspora. Yet, what is most present in their music is a specific homage to the oral tradition of their father’s Yoruba ancestry, the late Cuban percussionist Miguel “Anga” Diaz of Buena Vista Social Club. Collectively they are known as Ibeyi, the Yoruba word for twins. At anytime throughout their eponymously titled debut album, Lisa’s piercing, soulful vocals and Naomi’s rhythmically-focused minimalist production will give way to uplifting and evocatively sung prayers of Santeria, a Yoruba religion that developed out of the slave trade in Cuba. We sat down with Ibeyi to talk about creative freedom, the importance of family, music school and much more.
Greenroom: The thing that stands out to me in your music is the connection to folklore and mythology. Your music is spiritual. I think of twin origin stories. Do you find your music to be spiritual?
Lisa: We think that art is spiritual and we think that there is not a much more spiritual thing than art, than singing. It’s just natural for us to sing and express ourselves. As for the mythology: we grew up listening to Yoruba chants, Yoruba culture, so all this religion and mythology is a part of us.
GR: How important is family to your music?
L: It’s important to our lives. I do believe that we link music and family. I’m speaking for me, [Lisa] but I think that our biggest moments of happiness were with family and music. When we compose, we compose for ourselves. I think because family is important for us, and music is important in our family, it just came out. It’s a family affair. When we did write alone, I didn’t like it. [Writing music with family] is easy and better and wonderful.
GR: Is there ever any competition between you two?
Naomi: No. We disagree a lot. Not in music but in life. It’s because we are family and do not have any distance.
GR: Do you need space from each other sometimes?
L: Yes, of course, but for the music it is always good to be together. I think that there's no jealousy because [Naomi] is rhythm and I am melody. We are two parts of the project that work really well together. But maybe it will change one day, maybe she would like to compose and I would like to do some rhythm on some songs.
GR: It seems like you really love hip hop. I saw an interview where you said that if you could add another person to the band it would be Jay Electronica.
L: Oh yeah! I would love to add a rapper but not just any rapper, it has to be a good rapper.
GR: What other rappers do you like?
L: Wiki from Ratking.
N: Another rapper I love now is Joey Bada$$.
GR: Do you think that there is more space for African people in Pop culture, or more of an African influence in mainstream culture?
N: Yeah, but I don’t know if it because we are growing up and can now see it or if it was there before and we were just younger.
L: No! I don’t think it’s that, I think that it is changing. People are searching for new influences and Africa is deep [in] influences, for example African beats and clothes. I think its going to be the same with Asia in some years. It’s about mixing music and mixing influences. And it’s a good thing.
N: But look at Erykah Badu she has been doing this for a long time.
L: But she is just one girl! [Lisa and Naomi converse in French] What she is trying to say is that there was a lot of African vibes and African music in the world, it just wasn’t on the radio or the TV, but it was happening.
GR: I think that more actual African people are making indie sounding African music.
L: We are for that mix of culture. I do think it’s good that it’s a white person making African music, black person making African music, and African person making white music. I think that music has no boundaries. Especially under the American flag, where it’s so divided by race. I love the fact that we are Black, French and Latino.
GR: Do you guys have any days off?
L: We want to so desperately! After the tour we go to Paris then we are off again. We don’t have a lot of days off. After the tour we are going to write the second album. Writing the album is a moment of peace. We write everywhere. But we will probably write this next album in the studio. We wrote this current album at 14. We didn’t even know it was going to be an album. We are 20 now.
GR: What has changed since you were signed to XL?
L: Its been one year since the change. In one year we were signed, found a producer, [produced] the album and started touring. Before it was like, “We are doing music, it’s so fun.” I was at University and thought that I was going to be a music teacher. Our father was a teacher, too. He loved to do classes - he did master classes. He bought this big house and he wanted to do intern classes. He wanted you to stay at the house for a week and practice with him every day. It was an amazing thing. He did one and said it was mind-blowing.
GR: I have a quote from you: “How you want people to look at you is very important and you have to think about that.” Talk about that.
L: It is important for us. I love image. For a moment in my life I was confused - do I do music or movies? I went into music because my heart was in music. It is something that is really close to my heart.
N: I like what Beyoncé and Rihanna do but we don't want to be half naked walking the streets. So we choose to do something twisted and more interesting than booty-booty-booty.
L: It was really important for us because we are young female artists so we have to think about how we are seen.
N: People judge easily when you are a female.
L: At first I was like ugh, album artwork. Then I got interested in finding something twisted, finding something that defines me and defines her at the same time because we have two different ways of thinking.
N: So, for the second album we want to be like booty-booty-work-booty-booty, it’s ok.
L: I’m not sure that we are going to do that! What is important is that we are free enough to do whatever we want to do. This is because we made music for ourselves. There was no plan of making an album or being on the radio. We are free in our minds. So we are going to do the music that defines us. So if one day we want to change completely and do rock-indie-trap music then we will.
GR: Do you feel freedom with XL recordings?
L: Yes! [XL is] the best label - they let you do what you want. They were the first label [to approach us] and it was the perfect match. They know how to work with young artists. They know how to take their time to make everything feel good. They don’t make us be on the radio. They are not signing the artist for the money. They are signing them because they like what they do. They signed Adele and didn’t know she would be selling 26 million albums. They never came to the studio and said, you have to change this because it won’t fit on the radio. They never judged the music we were doing. It’s hard to be this age and to put an album out. It’s hard because it’s your music, your dreams, your self. So if people are trying to change it and you put something out that is not completely who you are then it makes things really complicated.
GR: Do you guys listen to any of your label mates? And who are your favorites?
L & N: King Krule, Jack White, Adele, MIA - she was on XL. The XX, Jamie xx. All good music!
GR: Do you listen to any MN-based artist?
L & N: Prince! We love prince.