Lisa-Kaindé Diaz and Naomi Diaz, the twin sisters who make up Ibeyi, exude every bit of the legendary chic and coolness you’d expect from two Parisian 20-year-olds on their second world tour, but with an added warmth and funniness that you might not inherently anticipate from watching their high-concept, metaphorical videos. Lisa-Kaindé is warm and inviting, Naomi more aloof, but they play off and clown each other, getting into it lovingly only the way people who’ve spent their lives together can.
By now it’s likely you know the basics of Ibeyi—heartfelt fraternal twins born to Anga Díaz, the Cuban percussionist famous for his membership in the Buena Vista Social Club, and to Maya Dagnino, a Parisian singer who grew up in Venezuela. They reside in Paris, they sing in English, they incorporate Yoruba chants and Santería folktales and Afro-Cuban rhythms and jazz-based vocal lilts—yet their music resides in the present and is infused with a lightness that seems to beam straight from the sisters’ hearts.
That’s the crux of their music, there, more than their diasporic biography or the way they embody the criss-crossy way the world works now and has always worked: their music resonates because no one else could make it, because it’s of their essence, and it’s whole. When they were younger, they never wanted to make music together—like any sisterly relationship, they can be adversaries as much as they’re best friends—but something clicked once they linked up with XL Recordings’ Richard Russell, a visionary curator of the roster who also sometimes produces for his artists. (Perhaps most famously, he was heavily involved in Gil Scott Heron’s comeback, seeking him out and producing I’m New Here before the legend’s death in 2011.) Working on Ibeyi’s debut album, he acted as catalyst and gentle guide, inquiring about their family and encouraging them to write music about them, as well as the Yoruba tales they grew up hearing from their mother.
Those sessions resulted in tracks like “Yanira,” a mournful devotional to their sister—who passed away in 2013—that also displays an fair amount of hope, underpinned as it is by Cuban rhythms and autumnal piano melodies. There’s a humanness to their music, an emotional honesty that finds itself not just in the lyrics but in the soft friction between their voices.
Earlier this month, the day of Ibeyi’s sold-out show at Manhattan’s Webster Hall, Naomi and Lisa-Kaindé whisked into the Jezebel office wearing bomber jackets and layers to yield the chill, their publicist and mother in tow. (Dagnino, with whom the sisters live with in Paris and who manages their career, had been traveling with them for this tour.) Mischievous and sweet, they chatted easily, occasionally looked to their mom to find the right word in English, and generally represented the chemistry that boils under their music.
They’re often described as somehow mystical or elusive or transcendent or ethereal or other—presumably because some people see their spirituality and background arcane, or because they are twins or, maybe a little, because they are preternaturally beautiful. But they’re still barely out of their teen years—Naomi described spending time in Paris at Favela Chic or Paris Social Club, two of that city’s best places to go dancing, and Lisa-Kaindé effused about their cat, who stays with a sitter when they’re gone ever since their grandmother, not a feline fan, described petting him only with her feet. They’re normal 20-year-olds, except, you know, exceptionally cooler and more talented.
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