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Ibeyi on Kendrick Lamar, Yoruba music and their big SXSW breakout

Andrea Warner

Listening to an Ibeyi song is immersion, transportation, transcendence.

The dream-like wonder of each track from the duo’s 2015 self-titled debut is a tumble of heartbeats, melodies, rhythms and soulful flourishes. Steeped in twin sister Lisa-Kaindé Diaz and Naomi Diaz’s Yoruban, Afro-Cuban and French cultures, Ibeyi’s music runs the aspect ratio of hip-hop, electronic, acid jazz, Afro-Cuban, piano-pop and soul, and they sing mostly in English and Yoruba with occasional lapses into their native French. It’s not the typical speed of the usual SXSW breakout bands, but the duo were the most buzzed-about act this year — no easy feat considering the hundreds of hopefuls looking to get to the next level.

Seeing Ibeyi translate their songs in a live setting is a special kind of magic, transfixing and soulful, as they channel something from a poetic, primal place. They dig deep inside their lineage and DNA — born to singer Maya Dagnino and the late Buena Vista Social Club percussionist Anga Diaz, the twins were primarily raised in Paris, with a few years in Havana — and every beat pulses with that feeling of lifeblood, of belonging.

CBC Music caught up with Lisa-Kaindé and Naomi a few weeks ago when they made their debut at Fortune Soundclub in Vancouver. Here are five things you need to know about Ibeyi, music’s next big thing.

This is all a (happy) accident

Lisa-Kaindé: We didn’t know we wanted —

Naomi: To be recording artists.

Lisa-Kaindé: To be musicians. It was not our goal at all. My goal was making music to feel good. I’m always saying, for me, I was a singer, but I was a high-school singer. It was my role in high school, and then I wanted to become a teacher. I never thought I was going to be a singer in real life.

Naomi: I was a little bit lost [laughs]. I thought I could find something, and when I want something, I’m usually quite obsessed.

Lisa-Kaindé: She’s a warrior.... When I’m holding back, because it does happen, and I’m like, "I’m not sure if we should do it, maybe it’s not our path" — because I think so much. Thinking is good, but when you think too much it’s not good. [Naomi groans and laughs in agreement.] It’s good that she’s, like, pushing.

Naomi: Let’s go!

Lisa-Kaindé: It’s great on the other side, too, when she’s not thinking and she’s like, "Let’s go, let’s go!" and I’m like, wait. We have to think about that. We balance each other.

'Our music is a mix'

Lisa-Kaindé: We said that we are doing Negro spirituals but in a contemporary way, but it was just a way to explain it easily. But really what we are doing is mixing different musics, because we are a mix of cultures, so our music is a mix. Basically we are mixing Yoruba music with a little bit of hip-hop, electronic sounds, downtempos and soul-pop music.

Rhythm and melody

Naomi: She’s very sweet. She’s very talented and she has a big heart.

Lisa-Kaindé: She has intuition. I don’t have —

Naomi: She’s reflective.

Lisa-Kaindé: I don’t have intuition at all. I think a lot about things. But she has intuition. She feels things, which is something I admire. She has rhythm. She is rhythm.

Naomi: She’s melody.

Lisa-Kaindé: And of course, she’s the most beautiful person I know. She’s really complicated to live with [laughs], but she’s the most beautiful person I know. You know what? I think she’s really pure. This is a weird word, but even when she’s wrong, she’s really pure in it. Yes, you are really pure. You’re not mixed up.

Naomi: Ah, no.

Lisa-Kaindé: You are real. Really real. Maybe she’s the realest person I know.

The fame game

[Both at the same time] We are not stars!

Lisa-Kaindé: Everybody says that, but we are not stars.

Naomi: I don’t know why they say that ... we can buy bread, we’re nobody on the street.

Lisa-Kaindé: There’s no paparazzi, no crazy fans. But we have the best half, which is people coming to our concert and hopefully singing along to the songs.

Rappers' paradise

Lisa-Kaindé: Jay Electronica is on the top of the list.

Naomi: Kendrick Lamar and Frank Ocean.

Lisa-Kaindé: Meshell Ndegeocello. I would love to work with her. There’s another rapper named La Mala Rodriguez.

Naomi: She’s a Spanish rapper.

Lisa-Kaindé: We are quite open. Working with someone is meeting with someone ... Jay Electronica is really special. He’s a poet. He’s on another level. He’s beyond rapping. You really hear the words when he raps.

Naomi: His sentences are unique. Now, the trap music and those things I love, it’s always the same words and intentions: I’m sorry, booty-booty, ass, ass, ass. He’s a poet.

Lisa-Kaindé: I love Kendrick Lamar because he’s unique.

Naomi: The new album! Masterpiece!

Lisa-Kaindé: I love Eminem, too. The first time I listened to him, I thought, oh, this is so true. There’s an anger there. The last album is amazing.

Hang out with me on Twitter: @_AndreaWarner

More to explore:

Listen to CBC Music's Chill Out stream
Listen to CBC Music's R&B/Soul stream
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