The Afro-Cuban Ibeyi sisters are definitely in a league of their own. Their sterling debut self-titled album courted a strong sense of place and ancestry. It was a confluence of languages and experiences but, at the core of its aesthetic, was the Yoruba tradition. From time to time, the twin sisters chant in a distant Yoruba invoking a wistful affection.
Their sophomore, Ash, seems to explore similar directions. Stylistically, the music maintains its acoustic spareness. The well-modulated vocal abilities of the duo carry the tracks, standing out as musical equipment in their own right. It is only a matter of additional blessings that Naomi strikes the Bata drum and Lisa plays the piano.
The album begins disquietingly with the song, ‘I carried this for years’. It unsettles and soothes in equal measure. The Yoruba listener in Lagos may not share Ibeyis’ experiences but he or she will recognise that common tongue. This is the triumph of Ibeyi’s second album. It deepens the conversation about place and memory. It dwells on an invocation of the self. All songs seem powered by a revolt of sorts, a rejection of the status quo, a purging—perhaps this is why these song obsess about water.
No civilisation is complete without a body of water in sight. Water remains relevant to music; music animates that fluidity, that ambience which water provides–and there is that sense that water holds multiple possibilities.
Hardly fashioned for dance, the music finds a percussive groove occasioning a kinship with that famed vivacious Yoruba tendency. ‘Deathless’, featuring Kamsasi Washington, is accompanied by insistent percussion, a defiant message and subtle horns. Channeling personal experiences about race, this protest is buoyed by its unadorned pragmatism.
There has been growth, both personal and musical since 2015 but Ibeyi’s music has shifted more to the side than forward. More confident in their style, they are willing to fuse rhythms from music genres and even spoken word into their repertoire. The back bone of the music remains that spare acoustic flavour and pastiche of experiences.
Ash comes from a place of communal suffering and shared feminine convictions.