A word of advice – a disclaimer, rather – before beginning to listen to Ibeyi‘s self-titled debut album: stop what you’re doing, sit down, and free your mind of any distractions (particularly thoughts of other notable twins like Mary-Kate and Ashley, Tia and Tamera, and the rampant nonsense calling themselves The Cheeky Girls). Failing to do so will probably result in injury to yourself or those around you, as movements will be stopped, hot beverages will be spilled, takes will double or triple.
Quite frankly, this is like nothing we’ve heard before in a mainstream realm. Franco-Cuban sister act Ibeyi take their name from the Orisha twins, one of many spiritual reflections of a deity in the Yoruba religion, so it is of course massively fitting that their record mines the depth of devotional music. It’s in the opening prayer for Eleggua, it’s in the submission to Oya, and it lovingly bursts from every pore of Naomi and Lisa-Kainde Diaz.
And when they deliver a song like Ghosts, it’s literally impossible not to sit back and marvel at every single layer of their sound. Ibeyi manipulate tempo and rhythm to their own design, thinking of nothing of a burst of silence (appropriately backing the line “should we just let it be?”), or a piano-backed plea immediately followed by kaleidoscopic Yoruba chants. And in their breakthrough track River, spirituality gets a most glorious outing in the handclap-chants of “let me baptise my soul with the help of your water”.
Of course, given the Diaz family’s background in percussion, it’s no surprise that these songs resonate more thanks to the sparse instrumentation. There’s emotion in droves – Mama Says is the most intensely moving track this side of Bjork – made all the more tangible by simple clicks, claps, and harmonies that can only be bound by blood. On a tribute to their deceased sister Yanira, turning her name into a reverential chant, the twins bring new meaning to goosebumps as they ask, “will we meet in heaven?”
There’s a richness in this record that theses could be written about, from the Afro-Cuban and Parisian textures of jazz (Singles), the smog of dark soul on Think Of You (not a million miles from FKA Twigs), and even in their closest commercial offering of Stranger/Lover. At the age of just 20, Ibeyi have produced what is likely to go down as one of the most exceptional debuts ever heard – radiating with spiritual clarity, it’s enough to make an instant believer out of anyone.