Wrapped in aromatic minimalist sounds, suffused with palate-enhancing jazzy beats and carried on a platter of ground-breaking electronic melodies, Ibeyi, Cuban twin sisters Lisa Kaindé Díaz and Naomi Díaz’s debut album, is a musical feast.
It is only fair to talk about Ibeyi in culinary terms since it is such a succulent offering. At the centre of it, as usual, is the Killer Opening Song, Oyá. This track is a perfect introduction to the risk-taking approach to music the twins show throughout the entire record.
First of all, they dare to pare down a song dedicated to the most impetuous and violent of the orishas to the basics. For those of you who are not in the know, K.O.S is happy to inform you that Oya’s chants and dances are characterised by a non-stopping, high tempo and frantic rhythm. Oyá is the orisha who challenges the ever-philandering Changó (only to fall for his charms after). She is said to “own” the wind, storms, hurricanes and shooting stars. In this Killer Opening Song all that energy is kept to a minimum. Using this baseline as a starting point the twins then proceed to add layers and layers of vocal power. That such a short piece is so full of magical moments is a testament to the good production and musical arrangement, not only on Oyá, but also in the rest of the album.
K.O.S mentioned magic and two examples jump out: the batá drums break, more than a couple of minutes into the song, and the video. Starting with the latter and going back to Lisa and Naomi’s daring approach, it was a brave move to shoot the video in black and white. If something characterises Oyá is colour. Google up any performance to this orisha and you will see women in multi-coloured dresses. But by resorting to monochromatic tones the twins (Ibeyi translates as "twins" from Yoruba) highlight the other trait Oyá posseses: she “owns” the cemetery and is said to live at its gate. Hence the ghost-like, spectral feel of song and clip and the translucent images of both sisters (their lips do not even move, thus, rendering their appearance poltergeist-like). The break from vocals to batá drums is a masterstroke. It is not just the change in rhythm but also in language. Up until then the lyrics were in English, now it is the time for Yoruba, that ancient lexicon brought to Cuba by hundreds of thousands of slaves.
As a Killer Opening Song, Oyá is the key that unlocks a trove of musical treasures, each unique in their own way. Oshún-themed River has a gospel feel, Mama Says’ early lyricism contrasts beautifully with the Elegguá-inspired ending and Ghosts is full of the same eerie, other-worldly energy that permeates the album, this time with an exquisite tribute to the Giant of Ocha, Agayú.
For those who like their music the same way they like their food, made with love, Ibeyi is the perfect record. Especially for those long summer nights ahead. And once again, it is all down to the magic of the Killer Opening Son.
Next Post: “Saturday Evenings: Stay In, Sit Up and Switch On”, to be published on Saturday 16th May at 6pm (GMT)