Ibeyi | The Cedar Cultural Center | Monday, March 30
During every performance, Ibeyi light two small candles on stage--one for their late father and one for their late sister. It's a way for the duo, comprised of twin-sisters Lisa-Kaindé Diaz and Naomi Diaz, to honor their lost loved ones, and also a part of their Cuban traditions. Their father was conga master Miguel 'Angá' Díaz of Irakere and Buena Vista Social Club, and they grew up with Santería, the Afro-Cuban religion based on West African Yoruba culture. In their self-titled debut released in February on XL, they build on their Yoruba roots, mixing in elements of soul, jazz, electronica, and hip hop. Lisa-Kaindé sings lead vocals and plays piano, while Naomi sings and plays percussion--cajón, batá drums, and beats.
Ibeyi (Yoruba for "twins") have taken the music world by storm these past months, appearing everywhere from the New York Times to BBC 1, to Havana Cultura. Coming off their first South by Southwest, the sisters are now on a full U.S. tour. In advance of their March 30th show at the Cedar, Gimme Noise spoke with the twins via Skype during a photo shoot in Paris, where they spoke openly about cultural identity, religion, their love of film, and their music.
Gimme Noise: You've grown up across so many borders -- in Cuba, in Paris. Your mom's Venezuelan. How do you negotiate your personal identities?
Lisa-Kaindé Díaz: I think we feel more powerful and strong with all those identities. I think it's what is making ourselves. We are like that because we come from a lot of different countries. I do believe that today being a mix of cultures is a plus. It makes it easier to understand other cultures, for example. And in the music, it was really important, because we are mixing everything.
Was it ever difficult growing up? Like, I think about growing up in America as the daughter of Chinese immigrants. I wasn't even living between that many cultural identities, but I still really wanted to fit in.
LKD: I can see that.
Naomi Díaz: I never felt that.
LKD: [To ND:] No, because you are not that type of person. [To Gimme Noise:] Naomi's the type of person that doesn't think about those things. She just goes for it. I'm like you, and I was thinking about it a lot.
It was a little bit difficult when I was like 14. We go back to Cuba every year, but when I was 14, I could really see the gap between me and my Cuban friends--the different ways of thinking and everything. And the culture. It used to make me sad a lot. But then I realized that to love someone, you don't need to be the same as him. You can love everybody being different, and being different is not really important, actually. And so today, I'm so glad, really. I'm proud.
Why was 14 such an important year? You'd started writing music around then, right?
LKD: Absolutely, yes. It was a difficult time for me, because everything was changing. [Naomi] was out a lot. She was at parties; I was not at parties. I was not invited. I was so bored and a little bit sad, and then one day I said to my mother, "I'm so bored! I did everything. I did my homework. I cleaned my room. I saw three movies."
ND: And she said to her, "Compose."
LKD: My mother said to me, "Compose! Write something!" And I said, "Ok, I will do it!" And so I started writing, and it made me feel so good, just to write. I was healing through that, I think.
Was that coming off your father's death as well?
LKD: No, it was three years after. But it was a way to feel connected to him, for sure. Music has always been a way to connect with our family. I cannot remember a happier moment than when we used to put music on and dance all day long, together. When I remember that, I really can feel the love. So for me, music is all about that: connecting with love.
ND: I think I felt better [than Lisa], but it's true that we were different. We had a lot of friends that are French French, you know? So Cuba for them was "exotic." And still is exotic. But...I never felt like her.
So how did you two start making music together?
ND: It was about three years ago, and they started talking about making an EP for my sister with her songs. And I said to her, "You are not doing this EP without me." And she said to me, "No, I'm not! I'm not doing this without you!"
LKD: That's how Ibeyi started. [...] We never thought it would get this big!
Yes, between then and your new album, you got picked up by XL! Talk about working with them.
ND: It was awesome. I mean, XL's a great, great label, Richard Russell is our producer. He's the best. He never said, "Do this, do that." We were always talking about things, what we wanted to do, what we didn't want to do. They're amazing.
LKD: The first time we met Richard, opening the door, we knew it was going to be the place where we were going to record. We knew that he was the guy that we wanted to record with. Before he even spoke, we knew.
How do you collaborate?
LKD & ND: We confront!
ND: We confront our two worlds, our two ways of thinking. We are twins, but we are really different.
And how would you describe your two worlds?
ND: Oh! I mean, what I have, she doesn't have. What she has, I don't have.
LKD: It's like that, I swear to you.
ND: Yin and Yang.
LKD: Yin and Yang. She's impulsive.
ND: She's reflective.
LKD: She's intuitive. I don't have intuition. She loves rap, beats, rhythm. I love it, but I'm bad at it. I love melody, downtempo, flowing kind of thing. I'm the sea, and she's the thunder.
ND: A lot of electricity.
I read that your orishas (Yoruba deities) are Yemaya (orisha of the sea) and Chango (orisha of thunder). So that lines up perfectly.
LKD: Yeah, you know, when I ask people in Cuba, "What's your orisha?" They said to me, "The orisha is always right." Weirdly. It's always so right. It fits the person so perfectly.
Do you practice Santería?
LKD: We really believe in it. It's our way of thinking. It's our way of living, but we are not practicing it.
The Yoruba culture is really about envision. It's really about knowing that everything around you is kind of life. Being conscious, being aware of the world that surrounds you. And I think we are quite aware. When I say it's a way of living, it's that when I'm saying every night, "I am daughter of Yemaya" on stage, I'm believing it. We mean it. It's not just saying on stage, "I'm daughter of Yemaya," to make it beautiful. It's not like that. When I wake up every morning, I feel it. It's in my DNA. It's like, in my blood. And I've built my life with this true belief.
So, you've talked before about your musical influences--Nina Simone, Meshell Ndegeocello, Jay Electronica, James Blake, etc. Do you have influences besides musical ones, like in literature or popular culture?
LKD: Thank you so much for asking this! My goodness! It feels good. I love photography, so I have a lot of photographers that I love; for example, my mother.
ND: And painting.
LKD: And painting. I love Frida Kahlo. Francis Bacon is my absolute favorite. Rodin ... I love movies. I'm quite obsessed with them. Cassavetes is my favorite director. And then I love Xavier Dolan.
Talking about film, how have you been thinking about the visual aspects of your music?
LKD: For us, the visuals are really important. It's important to work with [the video directors], because it's what people will see, and for a female artist, you really need to--
ND: --Be careful.
LKD: --Think about how you want people to see you. At the same time, it's really empowering to try to find how you want to be seen.
Your visuals do really reflect your sound. Which, my understanding is that, Lisa, you tend to write the songs, and Naomi, you assemble it with the beats and electronics. Is that correct?
LKD: Yeah. I think Naomi discovered herself a lot more in the studio.
ND: I think I learned about myself, and I think I had great ideas...
LKD: I think what she's trying to explain is that she decided alone she had ideas, and she decided alone saying, "I think this is the good path." And because we took this path, and it worked, it gave her self-confidence. We took her path, and we found the Ibeyi sound in the studio, which is those voices, the acoustic, plus a little bit of electronic and a little bit of hip hop sound.
What do you think it's going to look or sound like in the next album?
ND: I think the second album would be more for people to dance. Because I mean, people cry. People are crying. It's like, "No, man, you have to be like--"
LKD:I think it's good to make people dance with beats that are a little more heavy. I don't know if we're going to make people only dance. Maybe there will be some sad songs, because I love sad songs. I think they are really important.
ND: I think it'll be both.
LKD: For sure, we will go further. And for the first time, actually, in our lives, we are going to think about it. It's harder. The first album, we didn't think about it. It was completely natural, and it was about instinct. This album is going to be totally different. But I don't think it will lose, um--
ND: It will still be Ibeyi, but different.
You've been doing so many interviews lately. Is there anything people tend to skim over in regards to your music?
LKD: There is something: I don't think this album is dramatic. I don't think it's a sad album. Of course, there's some melancholy. But I really think it's an album about growth. And about celebrating the ones we love and that we love most. Yes, we lost them, but it's not sad. Actually, it's really the opposite. We talked about wanting to make something to heal, not something to cry on. It's just an album to feel good and bringing about hope, and about celebrating.
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