Plantain and Porridge is an interview series composed of two sections we call ‘Plantain’ and ‘Porridge’. Short and sweet like fried plantain, the first part explores the cheeky and playful side of even the most serious creative. Whereas ‘Porridge’ is more heavy, revealing the deeper essence of an artist’s beliefs and personal experiences. First up are Lisa-Kaindé and Naomi from Ibeyi.
‘We grew up listening to the Yoruba chants that are still sung in Cuba. Our parents were both initiated. Singing those chants is a way to celebrate our cuban roots.’ It’s not surprising that French-Cuban duo, Ibeyi describe their music as modern negro spirituals. The 21-year-old twins Lisa-Kaindé and Naomi combine contemporary hip hop with the music and ancestral worship of Santería. The artists credit their mother, Venezuelan singer, Maya Dagnino, for raising them to honour the Orishas they sing to on songs like Eleggua, Oya and the popular River, an offering to Yemaya and Osun, goddesses of the oceans and sweet waters. Fans of guajira and danzón may still identify them as the daughters of Miguel ‘Angá’ Diaz, master conguero and percussionist for the legendary Irakere and Buena Vista Social Club.
Haunting and groovy, their unique sound garnered them a contract with XL Recordings and an endorsement from Beyoncé who acknowledged them via Instagram. They’ve just finished an impressive world tour with more than 100 dates; their success is a victory for hip hop artists and fans who crave originality and sincerity. In this intimate interview on creativity, heritage and spirituality, the twins reveal what they listen to when they’re ready to party or feeling sexy. They also share their thoughts on what they would change about France, how their Afro-Cuban heritage shaped their identity and why a trip to Benin with Angélique Kidjo left a life-changing impression on their music and spirit.
Let’s first deal with ‘Plantain’…
What music do you enjoy listening to while:
Partying? Calle 13’s Atrévete-te-te and Get Lucky by Daft Punk.
Dealing with heartbreak? Limit To Your Love by James Blake and Toxic by Britney Spears.
Feeling sexy? Meshell Ndegeocello’s voice and bass – any song – it always gives you goosebumps and Kiss by Prince.
Spending time with family? Don’t Know Why I Love You (but I love you) by Stevie Wonder and A Love Supreme by Anga Diaz and Echu Mingua
Cooking? Mozart’s The Magic Flute and Feeling Good by Nina Simone
Packing? Dolly Parton’s Coat of Many Colors and Ray Charles’s Georgia and any Yoruba chants
Who are two to three artist you feel are:
Underrated? The singer-songwriter and rapper Meshell Ndegeocello, the director John Cassavetes and the American photographer Francesca Woodman.
Rebels? Nina Simone, Frida Kahlo, John Cassavetes, Patti Smith and Jay Electronica.
Fashion leaders? Jean Paul Gaultier.
Beautiful inside and out? All of those previously named.
What is one thing you would change about:
France? About France and EVERY country? Xenophobia.
The music industry? Having to do a certain type of music to have access to the media and radios in particular.
Your lifestyle? Having more time to see our loved ones.
Your last (not current) dating partners? Never change anything about anybody but change yourself 🙂
Your past? We believe everything happens for a reason so we would not change anything, even the pain.
And now on to the Porridge…
Your music, like your name, is deeply rooted in Yoruba culture. How would you describe Yoruba as a culture?
We only know the Afro-Cuban Yoruba culture. It’s a very big part of Cuban culture. Not only through the Santería and its syncretism but also in the music and fine art fields. We grew up listening to the Yoruba chants that are still sung in Cuba. Our parents were both initiated. Singing those chants is a way to celebrate our Cuban roots.
Yoruba is so important to your music. Do you think, in the future, you could create an album that wasn’t so deeply spiritual or grounded in Yoruba tradition? Or, is this completely who you are as artists?
We really don’t know. Nothing was calculated for this album; these songs came with Yoruba, we can’t predict the way the next songs will arise.
Eleggua was your father’s orisha? Who are yours? How do you connect with them? Are there special rituals you perform?
Eleggua was our Dad’s; Oshun was our mom’s; and we are daughters of Yemaya and Chango as all twins are. We don’t perform any special rituals but we really feel that the sea and the thunder describe us perfectly.
What does success mean to you? For example: Do you want to win Grammys? Do you want to make hit songs? Or is it more personal?
Do you know any artist that would not want their songs to be sang or their movies seen or their books read? We don’t. But the first reason you make music is to express yourself, not to have success.
When I (Lisa-Kaindé) started to compose at the age of 14, I did not even think I would record an album one day. It had never crossed my mind. I started making songs because it felt good; it gave me joy; and it was a way to feel alive. The reality of being a musician in the music industry today is that if you don’t have any success, you are dropped by the record companies and you can’t tour. We admire artists that have won Grammys but kept being true to themselves artistically. Nevertheless, lots of great artists never won a prize. For example, we would have given all the Oscars to John Cassavetes for his movies, but he never got one. It puts everything back into perspective for us.
Have you been to Nigeria? What was it like?
We haven’t been to Nigeria but we did go to Benin with Angélique Kidjo to play in the Cotonou jazz festival and it was one of the most moving live experiences we’ve had with Ibeyi. We were very anxious to see how listening to actual Yoruba would feel and it turned out to be unforgettable. We went to Ouidah to see where the slaves were shipped to Cuba and there we were able to participate in a ceremony for the Ibeyi, the sacred twins… There are no words…
Your music touches me deeply. Every song is healing to me. When I see you perform and listen, I think the reason your music makes me feel this way because creating it seems healing for you. Is music making healing for you?
Yes, music is a healer. What we would like people to feel is hope. Whatever happens, even when you lose the ones you love, there is beauty somewhere. We have been healed by some songs, some books, some paintings.
What is one thing you absolutely know to be true?
Feeling love is a blessing and what goes around comes around… One day…