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It’s when faced with tragedy that we find out who we really are. Naomi and Lisa Diaz’s musicality rose from the ashes of loved ones.

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Ibeyi is a musical duo formed by twin sisters Lisa-Kaindé and Naomi Diaz. The pair sing in English, French, Spanish, and Yoruba (a language of West Africa spoken by their ancestors before they were enslaved in Cuba) to music which blends elements of jazz, soul, hip-hop, and electronica, along with traditional genres.

The name Ibeyi means “twins” in Yoruba. They were born in Paris in 1994, and raised in France and Cuba. Their Cuban father Anga Díaz played the cajón, a traditional Afro-Cuban percussion instrument, with internationally renowned group the Buena Vista Social Club. Their mother Maya Dagnino is a French-Venezuelan singer.

Naomi began playing the cajón at age 11, on the day of her father’s death. Lead singer Lisa studied music education at the Sorbonne, but dropped out after the pair signed a record contract at age 18. Released in 2015, their self-titled debut album was an international hit, reaching the top 200 in the United States and number 15 in their native France. The followup, Ash (2017), was named to year-end best-of album lists in numerous U.S. publications, including Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, and the Village Voice.


French Cuban sisters, Naomi and Lisa-Kainde Diaz, are the twin forces behind Ibeyi, the band whose soulful, worldly sound has been captivating audiences since they first came to prominence in 2015.

 (clip from I Wanna Be Like You):

Look at you now

So wild and free

 (clip from River):

Come to you river

Wash my soul

I will come to your river, wash my soul

I will come to your river, wash my soul again

They sing in a combination of French, English, and Yoruba—a Nigerian language and culture brought to Cuba by the Spanish slave trade in the 1700s. Their self-titled first album was celebrated for its honesty, maturity, and musical sophistication. The songs were a form of mourning for the loss of their older sister, Yanira, and before that, their father, the beloved Cuban percussionist, Angá Diaz, of Buena Vista Social Club fame.

(clip from “Mama Says”):

The man is gone

And mama says

There is no life without him

Lisa-Kainde Diaz: The reason why we started writing was just because I was bored, mainly—bored and lonely, and it was a good way to express ourselves.

AJC: And there’s a lot of honesty in there about your place in the world. Is the fact that you are twins, is she representing you when she writes?

Naomi Diaz: Yeah, she’s writing for both. But I’m bad with words, I’m good with rhythm. So, we each other have our work.

(clip from “Better In Tune with the Infinite”):

It’s frustrating when you just can’t express Yourself

And it’s hard to trust enough to undress yourself

To stand exposed and naked, in a world full of hatred

Where the sick thoughts of mankind control all the sacred

I pause, take a step back

AJC: Would you guys be here if he hadn’t been your father?

Lisa: No.

AJC: How much of him is in you? How much of him is the reason that we’re sitting here talking about your music?

Naomi Diaz: I think it’s because he’s not here that we’re sitting here.

Lisa-Kainde Diaz: Yeah, it’s more extreme than that. I think we wouldn’t have been here if he was still alive.

AJC: You particular, right?

Naomi Diaz: Yeah, I’m sure, and both.

Lisa-Kainde Diaz: She started playing the day he died.

AJC: The day he dies?

Lisa-Kainde Diaz: The next day.

Naomi Diaz: I don’t remember.

Lisa-Kainde Diaz: I remember. So, we were 11, we go to Spain, where he died. He died, and we arrived the next day. And that day, we were in the house all together, and there were musicians there, and we just went to a cajón and played. But not like an 11-year-old should play a cajón, or like when I try to imitate her, and it sounds awful. She played, she hit the cajón as if she had always played rhythms on it. Our mother and our grandmother looked at each other, and I looked at them, and I was like, “And where does that come from?” See where genes arrive.

(clip from “Deathless” performance):

Whatever happens, whatever happened

We are deathless

We are deathless

Whatever happens, whatever happened

We are deathless

We are deathless

Ibeyi signed with XL Records in the UK when the sisters were just 18. Lisa was already enrolled at the Sorbonne, studying music education, and fate and Naomi forced her to drop out.

Naomi Diaz: She was crying, and it was really hard. And I said, “Well, Lisa, ya know, that’s life. The train goes one time, and never goes twice. So it’s the time, you can be a teacher, whatever you want, you can go to school at 30 years old and be a teacher later. But now it’s the right time, and we have to do that.” And she listened to me, and that’s where we are.

AJC: The truth is you’ll be a much better music teacher for having done this.

Naomi Diaz: Yeah.

Lisa-Kainde Diaz: Yeah.

AJC: ‘Cause you will be able to stand in front of the class and say, “I may be only 30 years of age, but I spent 11 years on the road, and we had hits. Now, let me tell ya how that works.”

(clip of “Valé” performance):

Our voices will hug you

Music will be our arms

The star will shine and enlighten your night

You are loved little girl, you are

I bet you’ll be stronger

When the day is back

Waye waye lo mio, waye kalamefa

Waye waye lo mio, waye kalamefa

In addition to helping to find their sound, Yoruba culture informs Naomi and Lisa’s very understanding of themselves—for one thing, offering a more interesting answer to that question all twins get asked: who’s the older?

Lisa-Kainde Diaz: It depends from where you look at it. So, in the Yoruba tradition, the oldest is the one that comes last. So I would I would be the oldest. In the European tradition, the Western tradition, the oldest is the one that comes out first. And the feeling of it, I feel I’m the oldest.

Naomi Diaz: Yeah, she’s the oldest.

AJC: Really?

Naomi Diaz: Yeah, I don’t know. She’s kind of a mom, but she’s the mom of everybody.

Lisa-Kainde Diaz: I might be the oldest, but she’s the toughest. She would survive a nuclear war.

AJC: You protect her?

Lisa-Kainde Diaz: Oh yes. Oh my God, definitely. If someone is talking to me in a really wrong way, or saying something to me, or being aggressive, or hurting me physically, she would kill that people.

Naomi Diaz: Oh yeah, do not do that.

Lisa-Kainde Diaz: That’s for sure. Like, the lion would get out.

Naomi Diaz: Yeah.

Lisa-Kainde Diaz: She’s a tough cookie.

Naomi Diaz: She’s a tough cookie, is that what you said?

In many ways, Lisa and Naomi Diaz are stark opposites. But when they come together in music, they create a greater song.

Lisa-Kainde Diaz: At the end of the day, we know that Ibeyi works because we’re in the middle. Ibeyi works because we’re both working towards each other, but it has to be balanced.