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From Cardi B to Nina Simone: 5 artists who changed Ibeyi's lives

Andrea Warner

Since releasing their 2015 self-titled debut, Ibeyi, featuring their mesmerizing and disquieting music video, "River," twin sisters Lisa-Kaindé Diaz and Naomi Diaz have toured the world, played Chanel's historic fashion show in Cuba, and they were even part of the biggest pop culture event of 2016: Beyoncé's Lemonade.

Now the 22-year-old, Franco-Cuban, electro-soul artists have just wrapped up the first tour in support of their sophomore album, 2017's Ash. The record is ambitious and vibrant, and finds the sisters exploring everything from identity, race, equality and feminism against diverse sonic landscapes that range from percussive and urgent to seductive and lush. They sing in French, English, Spanish and Yoruba, and welcome a thrilling array of collaborators into their tight-knit universe including saxophone great Kamasi Washington, legendary neo-soul singer-songwriter-bassist Meshell Ndegeocello, Cuban hip-hop artist Mala Rodriguez and Canada's own avant-pop pianist, Chilly Gonzales.

Similarly to their first record, Ash sounds like a futurist's fever-dream fully realized, influences pulled from generations past, from the earth below and the sky above and the water all around. Ibeyi's sound is an atmosphere and a feeling, but it's also an action, thrumming with life and language and love.

The last time Ibeyi sat down with CBC Music, the sisters talked about some dream collaborators. Ndegeocello and Rodriguez were on their list and both feature on Ash. As their wildest musical dreams continue to come true, we also wanted to look back at where they come from sonically. We asked the twins to map their musical influences, beyond, of course their late father, the great Cuban percussionist Anga Diaz. Their selections are just as eclectic, fun and surprising as we'd hoped.

Haydée Milanés

Lisa-Kaindé Diaz: She's the first singer I was a fan of. I was four or five or six and she [was] actually the first artist that took us into her studio and we recorded on her album with a bunch of other kids. I would say the song is a lullaby and I got so emotional listening to that song when I was a child! I remember just putting my headphones on and just crying. It's Cuban pop music and it's delightful. Beautiful lyrics and beautiful melodies.

Editor's note: the song below is just an early example of Milanés' music, not the track that the sisters sang on.

Me'shell Ndegéocello

Naomi Diaz: She’s one of our early ones, and we're really happy to have her on the album. We grew up listening to her, and her voice and her bass, you know she's one of the best bass players.

Lisa-Kaindé: And she's so free, every single album is different. There's no limit to her, and she will experiment with herself on every single album without being scared of anything and I think that's something that told us that we can do that, too. We can try to find Ibeyi in other worlds. We don’t need to stay and do the same because as a musician what is exciting for you is to go and search where you are everywhere. My favourite Meshell album is the Bitter album; every song, the bass and softness and the harshness at the same time — I don't know, it's just a masterpiece

Lauryn Hill and Nina Simone

Naomi: Lauryn Hill, too.

Lisa-Kaindé: Yes, [The] Miseducation [of Lauryn Hill] definitely changed thousands of people’s lives. It’s absolutely perfect! Let’s talk about that? Who makes an album that is perfect? No one! A song that changed my life was the first time I heard "I Put a Spell on You" by Nina Simone. There was a before and after and I remember the moment. I was in music camp and it was the first time that I was saying, "I am a singer." They said, "You’re a singer, you gotta sing this!" and they put headphones on me and "I Put a Spell on You" and I had to learn this song. My heart stopped when she starts singing, [sings] "I love you, I love you, I love you" [Naomi joins in and they sing a few lines together].

She said it so much that I started feeling really emotional and almost dizzy and that day I realize not only the strength of having a voice that is not the "perfect" voice I thought I should have but like a deep, different voice. I learned the strength of believing in every word you say. I learned the strength of repetition and how it would make people feel to repeat the same word because the more she was repeating those words, the more I was losing it. The more I was believing in her. I was entranced, now that I think about it. It was probably my first experience of being entranced, and, to be fair, I'm not sure it happened to me again.

Amy Winehouse

Naomi: I have another one: Amy Winehouse and Frank [her debut album]. I love the second one, but the first one, for me, is [trails off, smiling, shaking her head].

Lisa-Kaindé: Frank is incredible. And our mother used to work in the music industry, she was in PR and so she used to get so so many CDs, so we got Adele and Amy Winehouse way before people got them, way before they were famous and it was just like a huge slap in the face. I actually remember translating every lyric of Frank, and we were teenagers.

Naomi: [begins singing "Take the Box."]

Lisa-Kaindé: It’s funny that that’s your favourite, that’s one of my favourites. [They start singing together.] I also love when she sings, "I cried for you on the kitchen floor" [on "You Know I’m No Good" from 2006’s Back to Black]. So beautiful. Weirdly one of my other favourite songs that I love from Amy is [she just looks at Naomi and they both begin singing "Understand once he was a family man," from the song "What is it About Men" from Frank]. But I think my actual favourite from Amy is from the second album. It’s "Tears Dry on Their Own," and the lyrics are just ugh. [She starts singing and Naomi joins in a beat later] "He walks away and the sun goes down/ he takes the day but I’m grown." I have goosebumps everywhere. I did a little radio show yesterday on my own phone, we are starting little radio shows, and I put that song in and I said it's funny, we forget to talk about her. People, artists, we forget!

Naomi: We still think about her.

Lisa-Kaindé: She must not be forgotten, because she's in everybody's heart and it's just, you know, there's so much new artists that sometimes when you are asked to say the artists you love, you forget, but she's revolutionary. She was at the perfect middle of every single music I love, she was at the crossroads, and this is where it's interesting to be! She would pull everybody in, and there’s nothing more that you can inspire. She’s an example.


Lisa-Kaindé: Also classical music! Every time we would sleep at our grandmother's house she would put Mozart on, The Enchanted Flute, and we grew up listening to that. And part of the reason why we love voices is Yoruba music.

Cardi B

Naomi: And reggaeton from Cuba, and hip-hop. We were listening to everything. I love Cardi B. I feel like she’s never going to change and that she's really true to herself and she's not gonna change for people. She says everything she feels. She’s honest, and I think that’s why people love Ibeyi, too. It's good sometimes to have, you know, "personas" or "roles," sometimes you have to, but it's also amazing to have someone who you don't know entirely, of course, but who is also not faking ... Cardi B, I think she's special, and I don't know why, I can't express how really. But she’s from the hood and she will always love the hood, and people from all over can relate to her.

Hang out with me on Twitter: @_AndreaWarner

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