| Chicago Reader

French-Cuban duo Ibeyi yearns for a just, contemplative world on its new groove-filled album 

click to enlarge Ibeyi


Amber Mahoney

French-Cuban twins Lisa-Kainde and Naomi Diaz, also known as polystylistic R&B duo Ibeyi, masterfully transform firsthand experiences and thoughts into something universal on their ravishing second album, Ash (XL). The former wrote the song “I Wanna Be Like You” with the latter in mind. Though the lyrics recall her early memories of dreaming she possessed the qualities of her sibling, as the sisters sing, “I’m often down, often down / I often cry, often cry,” they come off as a powerful yearning for childlike optimism and hope. “Deathless” is based on an experience Lisa-Kainde had when she was 16, where she was wrongly accused and humiliated by a French policeman, who dumped the contents of her purse on the street. Over the imploring tenor saxophone of guest Kamasi Washington the twins chant, “We are deathless” with a determination that can’t quite overcome the scarring caused by the encounter. In “Away Away” they long for a calmer, less frantic world over shimmering beats and a deftly deployed effect that recalls the damped guitar tones in the Ann Peebles classic “I Can’t Stand the Rain.” As on the duo’s superb eponymous debut, Ash collides subtle inflections of Afro-Cuban rhythms with sultry, contemporary R&B; Ibeyi trust in the gentle shapes of their songs, and their lovely harmonies and simmering grooves get the job done. The most stunning song on the album, “Transmission/Michaelion” (which features bassist Meshell Ndegeocello), is a two-part marval that unfolds with prayerlike solemnity, only breaking into beats in its second half. Only “No Man is Big Enough for My Arms,” which relies too heavily on sampled speech by Michelle Obama to convey its feminist message, falls short.   v

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