Anastasia Tsioulcas writes at NPR Music for “Deceptive Cadence” (http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence). Widely published as a writer on both classical and world music, she is the former North America editor for Gramophone Magazine and the classical music columnist for Billboard. She has also been an on-air contributor to many public radio programs, including WNYC’s Soundcheck, Minnesota Public Radio’s The Savvy Traveler, Public Radio International’s Weekend America, and the BBC’s The World.
The video for Ibeyi's song "River" is, frankly, more than a little unsettling. Twin sisters take turns staring flatly into the camera, singing expressionlessly, in between being repeatedly submerged underwater. Are we witnessing a baptism or a drowning? It's unclear. But the song is so darkly beautiful and beguiling that I've been watching it non-stop.
This emerging duo, whose name is pronounced "ee-bey-ee", is comprised of the 19-year-old, French-Cuban twin sisters Naomi and Lisa-Kainde Díaz. They're the daughters of the groundbreaking Cuban percussionist Miguel "Anga" Diaz, and they root their sound in the Yoruba traditions they inherited from their father. (Their band name actually means "twins" in Yoruba — and twins are both astoundingly common in West Africa and especially prized in Yoruba culture.) "River"'s bed is a deep percussion groove — Naomi plays the wooden-box cajón and the double-headed, hourglass-shaped batá -- but the duo's voices float sweetly above the drums, edged with the faintest hint of metallic overtones. Though they're based in France, the Díaz sisters sing "River" mostly in English, before raising their voices up in the Yoruba language in a paean to Oshun, the Yoruba river orisha spirit and the patron deity of Cuba in the Afro-Caribbean Yoruba tradition. Ibeyi is brand-new to the scene (they are signed to the record label XL, the home of Vampire Weekend and Adele, with only a digital EP out now), but I can't wait to soak up more of their music.