It’s been almost five years since twins Naomi and Lisa-Kaindé Díaz – better known as the musical duo Ibeyi – released their last album, ‘Ash’. It was a gloriously soulful album coloured with meditative reflection that served as a strong follow-up to their punchy 2015 self-titled debut. The sisters will now release their third LP ‘Spell 31’ on May 6: an album that encompasses everything from magic, witches and ancestral history to love, revolution and womanhood.
Naomi and Lisa-Kaindé count themselves lucky to have made any new music at all in the last few tumultuous years. The COVID-19 pandemic and its ever-changing isolation rules has made their long-distance relationship – Naomi lives in France, while Lisa-Kaindé is based near their recording studio in London – even tougher to navigate. The time and effort that went into the new record has been worth it, though.
“So much has changed. We’re not the same women we used to be,” Lisa-Kaindé says. “We were children when we put out our first album – we were 18. We’re now 27. We are in a different place in our lives, we are in a different place in our bodies, we are in a different place in our minds. And I think this album is a reflection of that, and a reflection of us having the time to look back.”
Ahead of the release of ‘Spell 31’, Ibeyi spoke to NME from London to discuss their growth, magic and an album full of fated collaborations. Here’s what we learned.
Ibeyi made their new album by following a completely different process
‘Spell 31’ came about in a totally different way to Ibeyi’s self-titled 2015 debut and its 2017 follow-up ‘Ash’. “Usually, Lisa writes the songs [and] the lyrics on the piano, and Richard [Russell, XL Recordings owner who co-produced ‘Spell 31’] and I more direct the production,” Naomi explains. But for this one, Rich and I started together just making beats, and it was really nice because we weren’t even listening to Lisa’s songs: we were just having fun. Lisa’s songs [then] had to adapt to what we’d done, and we didn’t have to adapt to the songs she was making as we’d done before. It’s a better balance between Lisa and I: it’s the most balanced album that we’ve ever done.”
Lisa-Kaindé agrees: “There was this element of surprise, which was amazing. But then the songs had to gain muscle, and they had to become stronger and be able to live up to the beat, which, as a songwriter, is amazing to watch.”
They’ve recorded a Black Flag cover – but they’ve still never heard the original
Can you cover a song without ever hearing the original? Ibeyi can. ‘Rise Above’ – which Ibeyi dub their “revolution song” – is a Black Flag cover that features east London rapper, songwriter and producer BERWYN. The sisters’ sound may seem worlds away from the cult punk rock style of Black Flag, but after Russell hand-wrote the lyrics of the 1981 song out and brought them into the studio, it quickly became an Ibeyi song.
“The reason why we don’t want to listen to [the original]… I feel like we’re super-protective of the lyrics, and we didn’t want to be influenced by [Black Flag’s] melodies,” Lisa-Kaindé explains. “When it gets into your brain, then suddenly you can’t create something new because it has become the norm… the seed in your head.” Naomi clarifies that this was their thought process after creating their cover – and it didn’t even cross their minds to listen to the original ‘Rise Above’ before: “We saw the lyrics, and it was just a jam. And it became a song.”
The twins add that ‘Rise Above’ “flew out” and was the quickest song they made on the whole record. They can already “hear people singing it” on the upcoming Ibeyi tour: “I can hear the energy. I can feel the energy we would have when we perform it.”
The collaborations on ‘Spell 31’ were often serendipitous
‘Made Of Gold’, the first single from Ibeyi’s upcoming third album, is a spellbinding and hypnotic song inspired by poems from the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead – a work which not only influenced this song, but also contains the poem ‘Spell 31’. ‘Made of Gold’ celebrates magic while simultaneously mourning and honouring lost history and forgotten ancestors. It also contains an arresting feature from Gambian-British rapper Pa Salieu, whose vocals on the song were, in the sisters’ minds, an act of fate.
“Richard bumped into Pa’s manager right outside our studio on his way out to grab a coffee, and they got talking,” Naomi recalls. “Richard mentioned that he was in the studio with us, and Pa’s manager said Pa would be happy to join. Two days later, he was in the studio.”
Alongside Salieu, the album boasts an eclectic and acclaimed set of collaborators. Jorja Smith, a longtime friend of the band, features on ‘Lavender & Red Roses’, a love song about wanting to help someone who won’t help themselves: “You wish you could send them lavender and red roses like a spell to make them better, but, at the end of the day, if you don’t want to help yourself, nobody can.” It was Smith who told the twins to reach out to BERWYN for ‘Rise Above’, who, Ibeyi say, listened to the song once and “literally stood up, went behind the mic – he’d already written his part – rapped it and did it in one take.”
The twins have stopped chasing perfection
“If you’re running after perfection, you’re never done running.” Nowhere on the album is this better summed up than on ‘Creature (Perfect)’, a beautifully candid song about not chasing after an ideal which doesn’t exist. “To be honest, it took me 25 years to accept that I was not perfect”, Lisa-Kaindé says. “I was trying to be perfect and miserably failing at it, and then getting so…” Naomi chips in: “Angry!”
“Angry at myself for failing at it,” Lisa-Kaindé continues. “Actually, ‘Creature (Perfect)’ really changed my life, because I felt like singing it made it real. I would remind myself of it while I was singing it… even the things that I would find unattractive, suddenly I would find them somehow tender.”
Lisa-Kaindé also reflects on how the concept of ‘perfection’ has changed from when the sisters were teenagers: “Social media was not that big… the idea of perfection today is insane… now it’s everyday on social media, and you have to act happy and funny and beautiful.” Naomi adds: “It’s sickening. It would be boring, also, if life was really like that.”
For the first time, Ibeyi will be joined on tour by a live band
Ibeyi will head out on the road this summer, but, much like the process of making their new album, this tour will take a different shape to their previous live shows. “It’s going to change, because for nearly 10 years [it was] Lisa and I alone on stage,” explains Naomi. “For the first time, we’re going to have a band with [us]. So, there’s going to be four on stage now.”
The sisters also compare the “whole new journey” of ‘Spell 31’ to a career rebirth, stating that their biggest strength going into making this new album was knowing “what we didn’t want” – including not wanting to repeat themselves, or rush their creative process: “We have a lot of layers and we’re just putting them out, little by little. We have a lot of things to show you.”
Reflecting on their career so far, Ibeyi laugh when they remember how they used to think they were ready for anything. “We were not at all… And now we’re ready. We were kind of apologising all the time, [but] that’s finished. We’re not apologising any more.”
Ibeyi’s new album ‘Spell 31’ is set for release on May 6 via XL.