Lhe Diaz twins don’t look much alike. Lisa, round eyes and braids spread around her rounded face, talks constantly, in a high and clear voice, while Naomi twirls strands of her long wavy hair between her fingers, staring at us silently through her almond eyes, looking a little suspicious. A siren sounds in the distance. They are in New York to celebrate the release of their third album, before continuing the party in London (where Lisa lives) and Paris (where Naomi lives). Lisa recounts the first of these evenings, amazed: “It was super moving, we played in a very small room in the middle of Brooklyn with a rooftop. We invited vinyl sellers, an independent bookstore, we exhibited Naomi’s paintings and my photos of her…”
At 27, the Diaz sisters are international stars, but their mother, their “heroine” as they describe her, is never far away. This Franco-Tunisian-Venezuelan, ex-press officer for a label, has been their manager since their beginnings, in 2013, in Paris, when they were only 16 years old. That’s where we met them, for a live session enlivened by childish bickering. They were then unknown to the press and the industry. The potential was already there, palpable, full of promise. Lisa, more introverted, writes and sings songs in her room, while Naomi raps and accompanies her on percussion. Their soft and hoarse voices mingle, in near and distant languages. They have been studying music at the conservatory for ten years, but it is their father, Miguel Diaz, Cuban percussionist of Chucho Valdés, Herbie Hancock and the Buena Vista Social Club, who died in 2006, who is their greatest influence.
Adored by Beyoncé and Prince
Spotted in a video by Richard Russell, the boss of XL Recordings (Adele and The XX’s label), they released their first album in 2015, under the name of Ibeyi (“twins” in Yoruba, a language and religion imported by the African slaves in the Caribbean). Minimalist percussion, songs in Yoruba and English, this first album is dedicated to their big sister Yanira, who suffered a ruptured aneurysm in 2013. We then see their face spread out in 4 by 3 meters in advertisements for Apple Music , on the bill at the prestigious Coachella festival, and in the film that accompanies the release of Lemonadethe album of Beyonce. Prince shows up at their concert in Minneapolis. Billie Eilish, Adele, Quincy Jones, Pharrell Williams or even Jay-Z are fans. Mothers listen to Ibeyi during the delivery of their “babies”, as the sisters call them.
“Now, when people meet us in Paris, they sometimes speak to us in English! But we have always been French artists! they exclaim in chorus. Our teams are French, Naomi lives in France. In the United States, we are considered as Black, in Latin America, as Latinas, in France, as international… In our music, we mix all these facets, and we see it in our audience, which is very varied. But we would never have made the same music if we had grown up in Cuba. We went to the conservatory since our seven years in France, and had access to classical music, jazz, French song, Vian, Gainsbourg…” Moreover, they still dream of collaborating with Stromae, or the brothers NLP.
Today, they are releasing a third opus, recorded in London, in the studio of Richard Russell, their producer, bathed in a mystical atmosphere. Lisa says: “Great readers, we always bring books into the studio. Richard has, meanwhile, plenty of esoteric books. It’s great because you open them anywhere and, presto, it immediately inspires three songs… There, he had brought an English translation of the Egyptian Book of the Dead. The Egyptians placed these papyri on the sarcophagus of the deceased containing incantations and magic formulas allowing him to cross the kingdom of Osiris. Lisa unfolds the blanket and falls on the incantation “Spell 31”. She still remembers it by heart. And recites it: “Oh you with a spine, who would work your mouth against this Magic of mine. It has been handed down in an unbroken line. The sky encloses the stars and I enclose Magic. » In English: “Oh you, with a spine, who would work your mouth against my magic. It was passed down in an unbroken line. The sky encloses the stars and I enclose the Magic. »
Twinning as a highlight
“This notion of transmission in an unbroken line immediately appealed to me,” continues Lisa. “We started talking about the ancestors, the fact that we had lost a lot of knowledge because of colonization, the hunting of those who were considered to be witches, and who were in fact often healers, knowing the medicinal plants… The idea of being able to connect in a continuous way to a knowledge forgotten inside our own body and our own cells touched me a lot. I turned around and said to Naomi: “The album is called Spell 31 and you have to say this incantation on the song “Made of Gold”, I’m sure. “Made of Gold” is a hyper-sexy duet with English rapper Pa Salieu, in the spirit of these ten finely produced new songs mixing as many musical influences as their roots, just like “Sister 2 Sister”, an ode to their sorority.
Duality occupies such an important place in Egyptian thought that there is a particular grammatical number to represent it: the “dual”, which is added to the singular and the plural. In mythology, the twin gods Geb (the earth) and Nut (the sky), themselves children of the twins Tefnut (the sun) and Shu (air, light and life), form the complementary and indispensable elements of the cycle of renewal of life. “We are more like water and lightning! » they assure. Our culture comes from ancient Egypt: the Yoruba culture of the kingdom of Dahomey is a derivative of the Egyptian polytheistic religion. But twins have an important place in all cultures. Our grandmother had on her mirror a photo of the wolf nursing Romulus and Remus. It made us want to have a destiny. We wouldn’t have done Ibeyi if we hadn’t been twins. There is a notion of a path with twinship, as if we had been put together at birth for a reason…”
Spell 31, XL Recordings. In concert on May 17 at Lafayette Anticipations (Paris).
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Ibeyi: “Our culture comes from ancient Egypt”
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