Since their debut, Afro-Cuban French duo Ibeyi established an artistic foundation of ancestral bonds and eternal magic. In their first studio album Ibeyi, the sisters tackle subjects of familial history, death, and origins, and of womanhood, racism, and activism in their sophomore album Ash. For their latest, Spell 31, they’re reconnecting with the power of their birth and journey on the path of restoration through harmony, healing, and magic.
Lisa-Kiandé and Naomi Diaz have been musically inclined from the start. Born in Paris to famed Cuban percussionist Anga Diaz and French-Venezuelan singer Maya Dagnino, the twins — who spent their childhood between Paris and Cuba — began their musical journey at a young age. After the death of their father, 11-year-old Naomi learned to play his signature instrument, the Cajon, and Lisa-Kiande, after her mother’s encouragement, started songwriting. The sisters began their musical journey together at 18, with Lisa-Kiandé serving as lead vocalist and pianist and Naomi providing her harmonies and percussion — the formation of Ibeyi came to be.
Spell 31 is the next chapter in Ibeyi’s story. The latest album reflects the twins’ growth as musicians and musical healers. Naomi provided more of herself as lead vocalist and producer, and contributed to the album’s production alongside producer Russell. In conversation with Remezcla, she shares having completed the production of the album, the beats, and ballads, before the songwriting. It was a creative decision they wanted to try for the first time. “It was always the songwriting here, and they adapted the beats around it. The songs existed, the beats existed, and it was like who was going to have to get stronger,” Lisa-Kiandé shares. “And we decided that the song was the one that would have to get stronger and to adapt to the beats. That was kind of unique for us.”
Connection with their ancestral bonds is one of the recurrent themes throughout the album. When talking about the production of the first song, “Made Of Gold,” Ibeyi says that their vision for the song was to connect with the knowledge of their ancestors. “Your veins are changing into gold, like your blood is changing into gold, mapping your whole body. It’s that connection with your ancestor and that ancestral knowledge finally flowing to you in an unbroken line,” expresses Lisa-Kiandé. “It reminds me of healing because people used to put gold in their mouths in order to heal. It reminds me of royalty. It reminds me of so much.”
Ibeyi celebrates their connection and love for each other in “Sister 2 Sister,” a track that depicts the strength in their bond and journey together as Ibeyi over the last 10 years. “For us, it was all about the joy of having each other and the celebration of having each other. It’s also about our journey together,” Lisa-Kiandé says. More than celebrating their love, the sisters honored the journey they’ve built together by paying tribute to their 2014 track “River” in the lyrics, “Washing our souls in the river.” Naomi and Lisa-Kiandé’s evocation of their chant “IBEYI” in the song is a testament to their strength in sisterhood.
Like their previous releases, Naomi and Lisa-Kiandé pay tribute to their father on the album’s last song. They sampled him on “Los Muertos,” reciting the names of their loved ones and influences who passed, a decision they conveyed was always something they wanted to do. “There’s a way of saying-Ibae, and we knew we wanted to do it,” Naomi explains. Ibae is a Yoruba word used when speaking the name of an ancestor aloud, honoring the dead and wishing them the best in the afterlife.
“For us, it was all about the joy of having each other and the celebration of having each other. It’s also about our journey together.”
Spell 31 borrows its name from a passage within the Egyptian Book of The Dead, a collection of spells placed in tombs to accompany and protect the departed in the afterlife. Naomi and Lisa-Kiande explained how they stumbled upon the book in the studio thanks to producer Russell, who brought the book himself. They thought the spell was both respectful and cool, and they were certain it was a sign from the universe to them, “I knew that was the spell that would protect us in this new adventure and a new era for us,” Lisa-Kiandé says.
To celebrate the release of their album, Ibeyi hosted a pop-up fan event and performance on Sunday, May 1, at The Sultan Room in Brooklyn, New York. The performance was the first time the twins’ played with a band by their side. Naomi earnestly talks about her feelings about being connected to her fellow musicians on stage: “It feels really great to play, and also it’s a connection with the musicians, too. With Ismael, who’s the drummer, we look at each other and do some tricks and stuff we can understand.” Naomi and Lisa-Kiandé gush about having the chance to meet their fans after three years in an intimate setting. “It was really nice to be in this intimate place, it’s a public show, and it was the album release party — y’all, were really close. To our faces,” Naomi laughs.
The connection Ibeyi have created with their music is interwoven with the core of their identity. Whether it’s within an intimate performance or connecting with fans during pop-up events, Naomi and Lisa-Kiandé have established themselves as captivating storytellers who communicate through music.
Listen to Spell 31 below.