The first time I heard Ibeyi's "River" I cried. Hard. There was something visceral about the sounds echoing from Naomi's Batá drum and Lisa's smoky voice, a language being spoken that I could not understand, but still intrinsically knew was mine too. The twins, who were raised in Paris and Cuba, weave ancestral affirmations through both song and drumming. Their reverence for Yoruba culture from West Africa can be heard in each track. A live performance with Ibeyi will leave you breathless, dreaming of distant lands that suddenly seem so close once the rhythm unveils itself. Add their album to your playlist, now, and check out what travel means to them below.
Ibeyi kicks off CrushGlobal's #ArtistsTalkTravel series. Stay tuned for a lineup and conversation about travel with some of your favorite artists.
Where is one place you've been to in the world where you felt a special connection to and why?
Benin! We opened for Angelique Kidjo in Cotonou. We had just started the band and we were afraid to sing the Cuban Yoruba in front of real Yorubas, wondering what their reaction would be. They welcomed and encouraged us so much that we felt we could go on with Ibeyi no matter what. A blessing. Then we went to Ouidah and witnessed a twin (Ibeji /Ibeyi) ceremony. That is certainly the place where we felt the most special connection to since we started traveling as a band.
You can only listen to one album the for the rest of your life. Which is it and why?
Lisa Kainde : A Love Supreme by John Coltrane
Naomi : The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill or The Score album by The Fugees
How has travel changed you or played a role in your life, beyond touring?
We took our first plane when we were 4 months old to go to Havana. For many years, traveling meant going from our Cuban family to our French family, from our Cuban friends to our French friends, living totally different realities, speaking another language, eating different things, hearing different conversations about daily life. That certainly changes you. You understand pretty quickly how differently people can live in different social realities, but also how similar certain emotions and concerns can be despite of the differences. Love, death, friendship, family ties-- that's something we experienced in both countries.
We were lucky to travel before we started touring. Both our parents were travelers. Now, touring has become a huge part of our life and we still enjoy it very much. We just came back from Tokyo. It was amazing to play there, it was so different from any other place we've been to.
What is one of the most beautiful parts of Cuban culture you want people to know about?
Music. Cuba is music. And also the African Yoruba roots, the chants, the drums.
With recent relations between the United States and Cuba opening a bit, Cuba is suddenly the trendy place to visit. What do you want people to know about the real Cuba beyond it being a tourist destination?
There is not one Cuba. There are many. If you live in the country and you make cigars, or, if you live near the sea and you go fishing, or if you live in Havana and you make a living out of tourism, it's not the same Cuba.
The only way to know Cuba is to share people's lives in different parts of the island, speaking Spanish and spending time with them in their homes. Many tourists only see the postal card, buildings falling apart, rum, cigars and old American cars.
How has music from Cuba inspired your music?
The African part. That's the Cuban legacy that has inspired us the most. Chants, drums, a way to connect ourselves with something that was there before us and will still be there after us.
What is one of your favorite Cuban meals to eat?
Tostones: Fried green plantain.
Where is somewhere someone visiting Cuba for the first time should go and why?
Walking through the Havana streets is always a strong experience.
Your father is a celebrated Cuban musician. What is one thing he taught you as musicians?
Be yourself, feel free to mix your influences, don't worry about what people say. You can only create from who you are.
Finish this sentence: I am most happy when _____________.
Lisa Kainde: I am with my loved ones.
Naomi : My loved ones are happy.