I reach Ibeyi – Lisa-Kaindé and Naomi – ahead of the release connecting to their Paris base via zoom. The two sisters are huddled together on a couch in front of the screen. Regardless of the long-distance call, their family bond can be felt in the way they interact with each other, Naomi picking lint off Lisa-Kaindé’s face during our call and in the lively discussions they have with each other. It is this bond – the tension between similarity and difference – that makes their music so intriguing.
Rising from the Ashes
Ibeyi lives off this unique relationship between unity and opposition the two sisters navigate. But while they learned to use their differences to create versatile music, Spell 31 sees them assimilating a little bit more than before. “We are getting closer to allowing each other to not build ourselves into oppositions.” It was for example in the writing process of this record that the roles got blurred. “Naomi sings way more on this record”, Lisa-Kaindé tells me. “It was a process of allowing each other to take different places. There is a lot of letting go involved. With Naomi singing more, I get pushed out of my comfort zone and need to look for different ways of how I can uplift her. It is about teaching each other our visions and accepting these visions in.”
“When we sing together our voices sink into one and it is a lot more powerful. It feels like this is what we came to do.”
Creature (Perfect) describes the feeling the sisters explore on this record: “I finally see who I am supposed to be”, Lisa-Kaindé sings. During our interview they also radiate this ease and confidence. For the first time, the band is referencing themselves. “Yo soy espuma, y soy ceniza”, they sing. ‘Ceniza’ meaning ash in Spanish refers to their sophomore record. The sisters get excited when I mention this reference to their previous work. “We are so glad you caught that. The whole point was to connect to the precious record”, Lisa-Kaindé grins. And deservedly tooting their own horn, Naomi remembers someone telling them that “you know you made it when you can self-reference your work”.
I Enclose Magic
The magic the sisters found in their relationship is reflected by every aspect of the record. The album title, for example, was inspired by a book of ancient Egyptian spells that their collaborator Richard had in the studio during the recording process. Lisa-Kaindé and Naomi tell me, that they always have books around the studio when recording, which “inspire the records a lot”. Taken from the book of spells, the 31st spell was the one they first opened and found themselves immediately resonating with the ancient words:
Oh you with a spine, who would work your mouth against this magic of mine
The sky encloses the stars, I enclose magic
I enclose magic.
During our call, Lisa-Kaindé starts reciting the spell and Naomi joins in. In perfect harmony the two sisters, recount the spell. It sounds powerful and cathartic, vibrating on the different, yet similar vocal cords connected by family ties. “We felt really protected by this spell. It was the start of the album”, they tell me. Aside of this spell there are a lot of other ones in the book, which the sisters admit they stole from Richard. “They all have a sense of humor. Like spells about how to not get eaten by a crocodile in the afterlife. There are hundreds of them”, Lisa-Kaindé remembers.
Alongside references to witchcraft and spirituality, Ibeyi summon their ancestry incorporating the ancient Yoruba song into the record. But they are careful to use those words. “Witchcraft and spirituality has been misrepresented by the media. For me, witches are healers and not what we see in movies or on Halloween. And there are so many ways of being spiritual. Dancing in a club at 2am, abandoning yourself in love making, feeling your body, cooking for yourself, going to therapy. All those are spiritual things.”
On the first track of the record, Ibeyi call out to become Sangoma, healers from Southern African tradition. Lisa-Kaindé tells me that she came to learn about them during a seminar she took in the pandemic on rhythm, race, and revolution. “What was interesting, was that there we were talking about revolution and race and the link between those two while living it in real life. The class prepared me and reminded me how much of a tool music is. How powerful it can be.”
Where Yemaya and Shango Meet
After the opening call for the healer, the record continues with the Yoruba song O Inle. “It is an ancient Yoruba song; thousands of people sang it. It is a religious prayer to Inle, the god of health“, Naomi explains. In the Yoruba tradition, every person gets assigned one god or goddess. When the twins were initiated together with their family, it made sense that Naomi, the drummer, the producer, got assigned Shango the god of thunder and Lisa-Kaindé to Yemaya, the goddess and queen of the sea.
“The idea was that we start with Sangoma, taking you to a spot on top of the mountain and allow Inle to come like the rain, washing you down until you are ready for the next track – Made of Gold. It is the next step of what Ibeyi is becoming.”
Made of Gold is an empowering anthem featuring Pa Salieu. This empowerment is also reflected also by the cover art of the record, which shows the two sisters in amulets, hands reaching out in a pose as if summoning the power of music. “The amulets on the cover really exist and we will wear them”, they tell me. After the previous two record covers in black and white, they wanted this one to be in color and for it to fit the concept of the record.
“The amulets represent two things; they are reclaiming a space that was exclusively inhabited by white or European royalty. Lockets like these never depicted black or brown royalty. We wanted to take that history and twist it. It is a record about taking our place and feeling like we are worthy and like we have finally arrived. Lockets were also used by men in wartime as a thing of presence – saying I am here; I am with you. They are a symbol of protection and a way of us taking our space, saying we are here, and we have been for a long time.”
A New Phase
Ibeyi’s music has always been a personal journey. Releasing their first self-titled record at a young age, the two musicians have grown into a different skin. “This is the beginning of a new phase of our lives and we are going to need protection”, Naomi says. Ibeyi is recalibrating, finding new balance. The sisters are more in equilibrium than ever it seems, and Spell 31 is a document of their personal and musical growth.
While the duo came together as the sisters finding common ground in music, their third album is proof that they have found more similarities. The love and tenderness of family ties and the tragedy of the early death of their father that bound them together, can be heard on the record. But while the debut record and Ash were like the recently sprouted seed, Spell 31 is a flower in full bloom.
Can You Smell the Flowers?
The balance found between the two musicians also allowed them to invite more collaborators onto the record. One of them most powerful songs is Lavender & Red Roses, released as a single ahead of the album and featuring London’s Jorja Smith. The song was also inspired by a book that the band had in the recording studio. “The title is inspired by a book about the five senses. Naomi was talking a lot about plants and Richard remembered reading something about lavender in the book. So, he looked for it and read us a beautiful story:
“The story is about a woman who had a beautiful garden with roses, but deer would come and earth the roses. She was looking for a way to protect her roses and tried to repel the deer with the scent of tobacco. But the smell of the tobacco covered the scent of the roses completely, so that did not make any sense. It didn’t matter, next year she would try with lavender. The image of the lavender protecting the roses like a spell, stuck with us.”
Sister 2 Sister and Create (Perfect) both describe the journey towards healing, empowerment, and navigating personal relations amongst one another and with oneself. But it is the sensual experience that Lavender & Red Roses evokes that invokes the essence of Ibeyi. As healers, Sangoma and Inle, Lisa-Kaindé and Naomi are the lavender and the rose, two flowers as different as they could be. The unlikely unity that learned to work in harmony, to uplift each other’s traits instead of overshadowing them.
Ibeyi, the twins are moving on to a new chapter. Whether the world is ready for it or not and with united forces nothing will stop them from rising up.
Twins are spirits of a higher rank
Here to honor a lineage and convey a message from the Heavens
They share the mother’s womb
Treat them with complete equity
As they are duplicate forms of the same spirit
Ibeyis are the ultimate harmony between two people
– Foreign Country
The record ends on a recital of artists that inspired the band. Their names are read over hums echoing in the hollows of an ancient church, resonating in a tall dome, while another voice calls “Ibeyi“. The three voices melt to one powerful, prayer-like chant and close the album by paying homage to the artists who paved the way for the unstoppable magic of the twins, taking human form in Ibeyi, in Lisa-Kaindé and Naomi, Shango and Yemaya, two artists, two people who found the ultimate harmony between them.
Spell 31 is out now via XL Recordings.