Rarely over the course of French-Cuban twin sister duo Ibeyi’s self-titled debut does it demand your attention. The album’s understated instrumentation never risks throwing too many ingredients into the equation, and despite the odd hip-hop infused beat (‘Think Of You’) or ghostly synths (‘Weatherman’), Ibeyi is primarily a skeleton of sparse piano, modest percussion and voice. It works out all the better for it as Naomi and Lisa-Kaindé Diaz’s wonderfully intertwined vocal harmonies are left to dazzle centre-stage – and dazzle they do. The sisters weave their gentle tones around one another in a way that hints at likely years of singing together and results in some simple yet enchanting melodies.
Each song is told largely through English which the sisters favour for its directness – used to full effect in the refrain on ‘Faithful’: ‘be faithful/show me loyalty’ – but often they will flick to Nigerian language Yorùbá for a cappella world music codas as in the closing track. It is the Yorùbá -spoken outbursts which often reinvigorate the songs upon unravelling as evidenced in swaying single ‘Ghosts’ and this hop between languages only enhances the record’s already ethereal nature.
The words on Ibeyi (which translates to ‘twins’ in Yorùbá) speak almost exclusively of pain and longing – look no further than the broken home in ‘Mama Says’ and accepting farewell of ‘Stranger/Lover’ – but even the odd glimmer of hope seems tainted somehow thanks to either the resigned delivery or heartbroken piano. It’s all a surprisingly catchy, yet restrained and haunted beauty.