The Twin Sisters of Ibeyi Are Musical and Spiritual Guides for the Millennial Generation

Ibeyi returns to the North Beach Bandshell in support of its sophomore album, Ash.
Ibeyi returns to the North Beach Bandshell in support of its sophomore album, Ash. Photo by David Uzochukwu
Though humanity has suffered unspeakable tragedy since the dawn of time, news has never been delivered so efficiently to all corners of the globe. The slightest tap or scroll of a screen makes the gritty details and images of every global disaster available in seconds.  So it's becoming increasingly difficult to maintain faith — in a higher universal order, in institutions, in leaders, and in one another.  Recent research shows more than a third of millennials identify as either atheist or agnostic, and a quarter of American adults now consider themselves "spiritual but not religious." All of this makes Ibeyi's rise in popularity, particularly among millennials, even more fascinating.

The French-Cuban twins' Yoruba faith is front and center in their music. Their self-titled debut album was an elegy to their deceased father and older sister. In it, they performed Yoruba chants and prayers, such as in the sparse and haunting "Oya." The band name means "twins" in the Yoruba language.

It's no surprise, then, that Ibeyi's shows are often compared to religious environments such as churches or temples — sanctuaries that millennials are decreasingly interested in frequenting as the duo's audience grows. This paradox is not lost on lead vocalist Lisa-Kaindé Diaz. "In a way, it's true that our generation is a little bit less spiritual," she says, "but I guess it's because we have to fight more too, and we live in such a difficult world. But in another way, maybe that's why artists and musicians have to create an hour and a half of shows for people to come and to experience ...a spiritual show."

Those songs for us are so important, and they are so personal," she continues. "And they come from our bellies... It's a way to connect with ourselves and connect to each other and with the audience."

Diaz says one of the reasons the duo's music and performances connect so intensely with fans is that before the twins became a musical act, they felt desperation in the face of global chaos.

"It's really frightening," she says. "And then you lose faith because you think that you can't change anything, and you're like, 'How am I going to save the world? I'm one single person.' Then you become cynical, and then you lose hope, which is the most important thing. But we realized that the solution to not lose hope, at least for us, was to do something — even if it was small, even if we know it's not going to save the world, and we're certainly aware that we're not going to save the world... We gained so much more hope and we felt so much stronger because we realized that just doing something feels good."

On the new song, Ash, the twins settle into their roles as de facto spiritual leaders. On "No Man Is Big Enough for My Arms," they sample lines from the moving speech Michelle Obama made on the 2016 campaign trail after Donald Trump's taped admission of past alleged sexual assault came to light. "The measure of any society is how it treats its women and girls," the former first lady says while Ibeyi sings the song's title and refrain in the background.

In today's heated political climate, even uncontroversial sentiments such as the first lady's have been taken as indications that Ibeyi has become more overtly political. Diaz disagrees. "It's really funny, because every time someone tells us that our music is political, I always say to them [that], actually, it was not intended to be, but the world is making it political, because today, when two young women talk to women, it is political; because today, when you say the measure of any society is how they treat their women and girls, it is political. But it shouldn't be," she says.

"There's something really powerful about women taking power and realizing that we have power. What we all have to do is just remind ourselves every day."

In creating their music, the twins have lit the match for all the young people who listen to their music for the guidance to do the same.

Ibeyi. Saturday, October 28, at the North Beach Bandshell, 7275 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 305-672-5202; Tickets cost $30 in advance and $35 at the gate.
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Celia Almeida is the digital editor of American Way and the former arts and music editor of Miami New Times. Her writing has been featured in Venice, Paper, and Billboard; and she co-hosts Too Much Love on Jolt Radio.
Contact: Celia Almeida