In 2018 the personal has never been more political. As discussions of gender, race and identity have come to the forefront of society, what’s political and what’s personal is increasingly unclear. You can see it in the growing polarisation between the left and the right, feel it in the conspicuous absence of civil debate and you can hear it in the music of two French twins of Afro-Cuban descent.
“We realised it’s something we can do, we know it’s not going to change the world but just writing those songs is something,” says Lisa-Kaindé Diaz, one-half of the XL Recordings signed duo, Ibeyi. We’re discussing their latest album Ash and one track in particular, ‘Deathless’. Featuring saxophonist of the moment, Kamasi Washington, it’s a defiant track, bristling with anger and brooding saxophone riffs. It could easily sit alongside the likes of Kendrick Lamar’s ‘Alright’ as a modern civil rights anthem, detailing a run in between Lisa and a police officer when she was 16. Released as the lead single ahead of the album itself, it surprised fans with its more overtly political lyrics and confrontational sound. Bolstered in confidence by two years of touring, Lisa-Kaindé and her partner in Ibeyi, her sister, Naomi, realised they could take a stronger stance in their music, tackling not just the personal stories of their first album but the political issues that impact their lives as well.
“We realised it’s something we can do, we know it’s not going to change the world but just writing those songs is something,”
Born and raised in Paris to Afro-Cuban and French-Venezuelan parents, both of whom were musicians, the twins were brought up keenly aware of their African heritage. Their father was Anga Diaz, a legendary Cuban percussionist, best known for his work with Beuna Vista Social Club, while their mother Maya Dagnino, who now serves as the pair’s manager, was a singer of French-Venezuelan descent. They spent their summers in Cuba, soaking up as much of their culture as they could between Diaz’s commitments as a touring member of multiple bands.
Exposed to a broad range of traditions from a young age, the sisters found a home in a culture that straddles as many borders as they do – Yoruba. The religion, culture and language of the West African region of Yorubaland, now Nigeria and Benin, Yoruba was brought to the Caribbean through the Atlantic slave trade. Over decades and centuries, the culture and beliefs of Yoruba morphed and changed shape, passed on by word of mouth through generations of the enslaved and oppressed diaspora. Taught to Ibeyi by their father, the tradition of Yoruba with its folk songs and chanted prayers fused music and spirituality in a way that resonated with the twins from a young age.