“We’re Dreaming With Our Eyes Open” Ibeyi Interviewed

How familial connections inspired the pair to go deeper on their new album...

Ibeyi are no strangers to the world of music, the Afro-Cuban, French duo have been exploring their own sound for several years, building a body of work that is as strongly infused with spirituality and creative expansion as it is with enchanting percussion. Spanning three albums, countless projects and a conceptual range that encompasses both of their own complex perspectives, it’s easy to see why they are such an exceptional force.

Clash caught up with Ibeyi to discuss the influence of their upbringing, finding peace in music and their dreams. Hot on the heels of their most recent release ‘Spell 31’, a dynamic third album, laced with snippets of laughter and powerful ruminations on their ancestral connections as a means of understanding the truths of their past.

Between the pair, their energy is magnetic, to say the least. I get the sense that making music came like second nature to them, that’s not to say there weren’t challenges but when you grow up being taught ways to navigate your world through a language of music it becomes so innate it is almost shocking. The conversation starts off with a dive into how they each formed their own personal spaces within music.

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Lisa-kaindé: “For me, it was the first song I ever wrote. I was 15 and my sister was out of the house. I was really bored. I felt like I had done everything I was supposed to be doing and I was bored and feeling sorry about myself. I said to my mom “I’m bored, I don’t know what to do.” She said “then you should write a song”, and she went to bed. So I started writing a song, I realised that time would stretch and I had the best time but also, I felt like I was making something and I was healing. So I guess that was the first time I realised, oh, my God, I love this. This makes me feel good.”

Naomi Diaz: “You know, we always had music in the house and so I think it was really part of the family. But for me, it was when our dad passed away.”

Naomi learnt to play cajón after their father’s passing, a powerful means of connecting to their father through the instruments he played. Their latest album ‘Spell 31’ searches these kinds of ancestral connections with music and creativity in an incredibly meaningful and captivating manner. I ask if their music has brought them peace?

Lisa-kaindé: “It really still does. For us, music is the thing that makes us heal the most. Making it heals us, talking about things through songs, taking the time to feel what we feel and to externalise it, creating music was always a way to transform painful stuff into something beautiful and to celebrate things that we wanted to celebrate. So music definitely heals.”

It’s amazing the perspective that duality provides the Ibeyi twins. Seeing a space from multiple angles has clearly given them a measured insight. Where Naomi is more reserved, Lisa jumps in with plenty to say and when Lisa needs time to think on a response, Naomi already has a concise gem ready to present.

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We explore if it was easier for them to connect to their creativity through music because it was close to their upbringing? Whether this closeness was a factor in their taking on a musical journey?

Naomi Diaz: “I think it just happened. I don’t think it has anything to do with wanting to be like them.”

Lisa-kaindé: “We did see our parents and how much music influenced them and helped them.”

Naomi Diaz: “Obviously having parents that are in the music industry or are musicians can make you want to do it. But also it can make you not want to do it.”

Lisa-kaindé: “We knew it was possible but we also knew how hard it was from the start. We knew the consequences of choosing a life like this from the start, we saw all sides of it, you know, the dark side and the positive sides. I have to say the fact that we grew up seeing how much art influenced our parents and how much it helped them in their own personal life truly inspired us to do the same.”

Navigating these influences as musicians definitely provides the chance to build a deeper connection, there are lessons that you learn by doing these things for decades and when you’re born into those spaces where the lessons have been faced by older generations, the messages can come through clearer and from an earlier age.

Lisa-kaindé: “Yeah, they do. It’s true. They do. And I’ve always felt that we grew up in a family that loved us so much and has so much beauty and power in it.”

We delve into their outlook on a fractured spiritual heritage and as a mixed woman with Caribbean heritage, this subject really resonated with me. I query if connecting with an ancestral legacy through creativity can bring those kinds of fractured spaces, the healing they need.

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Naomi Diaz: “I think you have to connect with it the way you want. It’s how you connect with it, with what you’re doing, if you want to do it, just do it. If it’s cooking, if it’s singing a song.”

Lisa-kaindé: “Going to your country or finding a country where the answer is. I definitely think that no one way is right. There’s millions of different ways to do it. For us, it happens to be music. For someone else, it might be different. But what we always talk about, Naomi and I like the idea of healing that ancestry. Plus healing ourselves and the load of trauma you get in this lifetime.”

Naomi Diaz: “You get everything from your parents and your grandparents.”

Lisa-kaindé: “The world is realising more and more how important it is. I understand what you mean because I definitely felt that way growing up, that people had lost that connection, but I feel the world is changing. People are more and more interested in finding where they’re from and in connecting with all of their cultures, all sides of who they are.”

Naomi Diaz: “We all need to accept that everybody’s not going to do these things the same way as we do. Spirituality is a really broad subject and not a lot of people do it the same way. I think people have to realise that, you know, everybody does his own way. We don’t need to do it the same way.”

Lisa-kaindé: “You mean, there are many ways to find that.”

Naomi Diaz: “Yeah, so probably some people are doing it without even knowing it.”

Lisa-kaindé: “Not even noticing that’s what they were doing.” I have to agree, In the same way, that you find out after decades particular behaviours you perform are things that you share with grandparents and great grandparents. Often we’re all living out deeply meaningful connections through methods we don’t even understand fully.

It’s clear from their projects that music can realise itself as a deeply spiritual and connecting experience for the duo, sometimes something that runs so deeply can take a lot from the artists engaging with it. I interrogate if they faced this give and take while building their latest album.

Lisa-kaindé: “It’s both always, it feeds you and takes from you and feeds you again. I think when you make art that is so personal, it always takes then gives. But I guess that’s the magic of art and music, everything you put in it will come back also in different ways. It’s perfect.”

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This connection to their process, the ebb and flow of creative energy speaks volumes of an authentic connection to their personal and cultural identities, it’s definitely one of the factors that have led to them being darlings for countless people within music and fashion, including the late Karl Lagerfeld. I’m curious to know what authenticity means to them? What drives them to hold on to it?

Lisa-kaindé: “We always want to make albums that, how do you say, that exactly represent who we are at the moment we are making them. But we also find it really important to not box ourselves in and to allow ourselves to change through time and through albums. The question with being authentic is basically saying you’re going to change, you’re going to evolve, you’re going to discover different sides of your personality.”

Naomi Diaz: “Lisa is really, you know, she’s really like an open book, I’m less so. We are who we are and who we tend to be. We try to show you who we are. But our way.”

Lisa-kaindé: “You mean I have no problem talking about things that are deeply personal. You feel more protective of that. But I still feel like we managed to make three albums that are exactly who we were at the time we made them.”

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The discussion turns to how their close connection plays out in other ways, especially in the realm of dreams.

Naomi Diaz: “I don’t remember any of my dreams. It’s really sad.”

Lisa-kaindé: “But you know what! We probably do, but we do it in real life.”

Naomi Diaz: “We’re dreaming with our eyes open. But yeah, I don’t remember my dreams. I wish I could. I never know them. But Lisa dreams.”

Lisa-kaindé: “A lot. I dream a lot!”

Lisa-kaindé (talking to Naomi): “I hope your dreams will become available to you.”

Naomi Diaz: “I feel like maybe they’re not really interesting, though. Because if I don’t remember them that means that it’s not really interesting.”

Lisa-kaindé: “No! Because you’re incredibly creative! I’m sure your dreams would be amazing!”

Naomi Diaz: “I think your dreams are more fantastic and weird. Mine are probably not really. You know, I’m very matter of fact so that’s probably why.”

I can hear the dismay in Lisa’s voice at the thought her sister could think her dreams would ever be unremarkable. I mention that their dynamic back and forth in terms of knowing when the other needs to speak without stepping on their toes is flawless. Breaking into a harmonious giggle they aptly respond. “Yeah, that’s a twin head. It’s a twin thing…”

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‘Spell 31’ is out now.

Words: Naima Sutton

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