Interview: Ibeyi @ WOMAD (July 2015)

No matter that time is limited, the rain is pouring down or that backstage hustle and bustle is off the scale. When you have the chance to interview the most up-and-coming act of the year – and one of the most charming and stylish- you just have to seize the moment. And so we did.

When the last echoes of their performance faded from WOMAD’s BBC Radio 3 Charlie Gillett Stage and only minutes before their departure from Charlton Park we met the Diaz sisters, better known as Ibeyi.

Thanks to their vibrant roots and musical curiosity, Lisa-Kaindé and Naomi have developed a unique sound to connect their Cuban and Yoruba origins with their French present. They have taken the liberty of adding a bit of electronic sophistication, hip-hop grooves and artsy devices to the potion. The result is a refined début album and a series of shows such as this WOMAD one, which mesmerised the audience despite the heavy rain that annoyed them throughout the gig.

Lisa and Naomi, who are twins, as their Yoruba stage name suggests, are also two faces of the same coin. Not only do they look different, but they also have different personalities and musical tastes. But together they form a harmonious and close-knit musical team, one which we feel has not yet shown its full artistic potential.

So we began our interview asking when and why they decided to join forces and set up Ibeyi. Lisa-Kaindé, the younger twin (by two minutes), immediately answered:

Actually we never really decided to do it. It just happened. Someone asked me to do an EP because I had some songs ready, and then the idea to work with Naomi came”.

But Ibeyi is not just about two individuals working side by side. Reflecting the mild and patient nature of Lisa and the more spontaneous personality of Naomi the project is also about amalgamating unique musical worlds. internet safety statistics . It allows them to sound seductively together, combining rhythms of Cuba with West Africa’s Yoruba tradition and adorning the outcome with some tasteful French touches.

Then they also introduce some cutting-edge references to hip-hop and electronic music. Inevitably then, we asked Naomi and Lisa about their influences and how it was to let them cohabit in their music. Naomi answered as if the mixing cultures was the most natural thing to do:

We didn’t think about our influences and the way to put them together, we just did it”.

And Lisa insisted:

Yes we don’t usually think about it. Our music is a reflection of what we are and we are all these influences, so it’s natural for us to mix them. Then it’s about what we listen to. For example she [Naomi] usually listens to a lot of hip-hop, while I mainly listen to African music, jazz and many soul singers. Then, of course, we take from our Yoruba culture at large, and a little bit from the French too, because we grew up in France. So I think that our music mixes all these influences naturally, with no pushing”.

Therefore, we popped the question if there was one culture that gets a bigger share of their creativity and embodies Ibeyi’s soul better than the others, and, as a matter of fact, they are also the daughters of a musician who helped make Cuban music history.

Naomi responded:

I think that there are more French and Cuban flavours in our music”.

That was the same opinion of Lisa’s:

Yes we are mainly French and Cuban. But we don’t want our music to be more French, Yoruba, Cuban or hip-hop. We like the fact that is really mixed”.

As mentioned, Miguel ‘Angá’ Díaz [their father] was a percussionist who indelibly linked his name to Irakere, Buena Vista Social Club and Cuban music at large, while their mother is a singer and their manager. So, we were curious to know how much their talented family sses their career. Lisa explained to us:

We grew up in a family which used to listen to a lot of music all the time, so we grew up liking and enjoying music. But our father never taught or urged us to play any instruments. The other good thing is that, since we were following our parents, we grew up going to many shows and connecting with the music world. We were the only babies in the audience, so people were kind to us.

Then, Lisa wanted to pinpoint one thing. She smiled and said:

“But, we were no Mozart! Our father never expected or told us that we had to be musicians”.

And Naomi continued: “Yes, not even to practice: it was entirely our decision”.

Consequently, we wondered how that decision was working and how Ibeyi’s project was going. Naomi answered with self-assurance:

The process is quite natural: Lisa usually writes the songs and the music, then I come up with the rhythm. Once in the studio we know exactly what to do, even if we haven’t already decided”.

However, WOMAD wasn’t the first time we met Ibeyi. We were introduced to them last November when they were supporting the natural talent of Angelique Kidjo during her London’s gig. So we asked them how they felt to play next to her, and whether there are any other influences for their music. Lisa recalled that gig with passion, saying:

Oh my God…I love Angelique! I really love her”.

Naomi agreed:

Yes, we absolutely love her and that gig was amazing! But, we are also influenced by many other artists. At the moment I’m listening a lot to Frank Ocean and James Blake for example”.

For Lisa music is only one of the sparks that fires up her creativity:

Actually, we have many influences from other art forms too, not just music. I love to listen to Nina Simone and Meshell Ndegeocello, but I also look at art in general – fine art in particular. I’m really inspired by artists like Frida Kahlo and Marina Abramović”.

Since they had just finished their alluring performance on the BBC Radio 3 Charlie Gillett Stage we asked them what their impression of WOMAD was. We wondered if a festival like the World of Music and Dance could have an impact on their music. Lisa was bursting with enthusiasm about their experience:

It was our first time at WOMAD and we absolutely loved it: it’s really amazing! Before the show, while we were on our way here we were a little bit worried because of the weather…”

Naomi butts in: “Yes, it was because of the rain, the pouring rain!

Lisa continued: “…we were like: nobody is going to come! We are going to play in front of no one! But actually we played in front of a huge crowd and we are so happy about it. It was a special moment for us. People who come to WOMAD get special music, music with a lot of influences just like ours. So we immediately felt at ease”.

We ended our chat with a routine question about their artistic future and how hard is to repeat the success of their debut album. As Lisa revealed to us, we quickly found out that the Diaz twins like to keep themselves busy:

“We’re already writing something new and our plan is to go further, but in both directions. What I mean is that since for our first record we mixed ourselves. Now we have to exaggerate our two worlds. There’ll be some songs which will sound more mainstream and more up-tempo because Naomi is like that, she loves hip-hop. And there will be others that will be weirder, because I love strange music!”

It goes without saying that, since we love intoxicating music cocktails and lush cultural blends between distant but attractive traditions, we are looking forward to Ibeyi’s second album – and their next UK tour, which will hit the road in few weeks time.