Early one morning last month the singing/songwriting duo Ibeyi got a big surprise. While the siblings were trying to rest at an airport, friends alerted them that their single “River” was used as background music for an Instagram video posted by and starring the one and only Beyonce.
“It was like 4 or 5 in the morning,” remembers Lisa-Kainde Diaz, during a Skype call from LA. “(We were) really tired and we were like, ‘What are you talking about?’ And we went to the Instagram and we saw the video. We were, like, shocked, because we didn’t even know. I mean, she did it in her house!”
“It was totally unexpected,” adds twin sister Naomi.
Music websites like Okayafrica and The Fader reported on the whole thing, getting the twins’ reaction about the sudden co-sign from a pop megastar. As grateful as they are for Beyonce’s introducing her fans (aka the Beyhive) to them by using one of their songs, Lisa-Kainde and Naomi still haven’t approached Mrs. Jay-Z to thank her in person. “We didn’t even contact her or try to contact her,” says Lisa-Kainde. “We just appreciated it so much. So, we were like, ‘Oh, thank you, Queen B!’”
Whether it’s one of the biggest stars in music or a gaggle of people at SXSW in Austin, Texas (where they kicked off their first North American tour earlier this year), Ibeyi (which is Yoruba for “twins” and is pronounced “ee-bey-ee”) are just grateful people are listening to their brand of experimental, exotic soul. In February, their self-titled debut album was released, garnering many rave reviews.
Even though their tunes are performed in English and Yoruba, a Nigerian language their ancestors spoke before being brought to Cuba as slaves in the 1700s, Ibeyi has found that wherever they perform and whoever is their audience, the music is immediately accepted.
“It’s amazing performing in the U.S., because we feel that people really get the music easily and quickly,” says Lisa-Kainde. “So, it feels wonderful. And, you know, at our shows, there are lots of Latinos and then there are lots of black people, and then there are lots of Yoruba people, and then there are lots of white people. And, so, it feels like everybody finds something in Ibeyi that reminds them about them.”
Even though the 20-year-old sisters are born-and-based Parisians, they have a heavy Cuban background. They spent their formative years on the island and still take holidays there once a year. And their father, the late Grammy-winning percussionist Anga Diaz (whom they paid tribute to the album, along with their older sister Yanira, who died of a stroke in 2013), was Cuban and performed with Buena Vista Social Club. So, of course, they rejoiced when news broke this past summer of Cuba opening up relations in the United States, along with Cuba expanding Internet access for its citizens.
“Well, we are happy because people wanted it,” says Lisa-Kainde. “People wanted Cuba to be more open. But, at the same time, we are a little bit scared because we don’t want Cuba to be the United States, you know. Cuba has something special, and we don’t want Cuba to lose that specialness.”
“It’s good to have change,” says Naomi.
While they’re happy for their Cuban brethren, they’re not done with America just yet. After spending most of the spring playing stateside shows, the ladies are here again touring. Monday, they’ll make a stop in Saxapahaw, which will mark their first time performing in North Carolina. They’re looking forward to seeing if Tar Heel folk will dig their bilingual musical stylings.
“I think there’s something magical about Yoruba chants that everybody can connect with it,” says Lisa-Kainde. “You don’t need to be Yoruba to connect with it at all. And that’s a really good thing about Ibeyi – everybody connects. I mean, you don’t need to come from Cuba to connect with our music – I hope, but I think not. You can just come and listen and have a good time.”
Who: Ibeyi, with Vicktor Taiwo
When: 8 p.m. Monday
Where: Haw River Ballroom, 1711 Saxapahaw Bethlehem Church Road, Saxapahaw
Cost: $18 ($21 at the door)
Info: 336-525-2314 or hawriverballroom.com