Ibeyi Enchants the U.S. With Their Spell 31 Tour (Interview)

It’s been long overdue but it’s been confirmed: French-Cuban sisters Ibeyi are back in the U.S. to tour their latest record Spell 31. We know that their live performance is exquisite, and we’ve been imagining how these new songs will sound on stage since the album release in May last year. The unfortunate postponement of their North American tour definitely rose expectations. Now our wish comes true: the talented Lisa-Kaindé and Naomi Diaz will finally bring their new show, including a full live band, to fourteen major cities. The tour begins this Friday, March 10th in Los Angeles, and ends – almost a month later and on the other coast – on Sunday, April 2nd in Miami (tickets here).

There are many reasons why Ibeyi radiates such magnetism. Of course, the fact that Naomi and Lisa-Kaindé are twins gives the duo a special charm. But it’s clear that nothing would make sense without their music, without their artistic project, always exciting and innovative, fueled by healing melodies and bewitching beats, and by that magical spark that radiates their spiritual and ancestral sides. A colorful cocktail that combines R&B with Yoruba music, modern jazz with trip-hop, and electronica with soul.


Of course, it’s not just about sound elaboration: each Ibeyi album tackles transcendent themes that definitely elevate their multilingual lyrics (they sing in English, French, Spanish, and Yoruba). Family history, death, and origins appear in their self-titled 2015 release. Genuine expressions on womanhood, racism, and activism enhance 2017’s Ash. For the still brand new Spell 31 the twins set out to mobilize the power of their birth-given destiny as Ibeyi, in search of true harmony and repair. The album unfolds ten new songs of their own, including a reimagining of Black Flag’s “Rise Above”. 

In this exclusive interview, Naomi and Lisa-Kaindé reveal how their cultural background and migrant family history always influence their music, what it was like to make a record as Spell 31, working again with their longtime producer Richard Russell, during 2021 in London, and how excited they are to perform it live this month in the US.


You’re finally going to present your latest album Spell 31 in the US after the tour was postponed and rescheduled. How do you manage the expectation between the uncertainty of the past few years and the desire to restore a live show experience?

Lisa-Kaindé: Well, that’s a really good question. It’s actually quite difficult to manage those expectations. And also the world has changed. The world has changed so much. And it’s a complicated and dark world sometimes, but we knew that live shows are part of the most important things for us. We know that Ibeyi’s music resonates in a stronger and more beautiful way when we play live. We also know that what happens with the audience – a love affair we’ve been building for ten years – is one of the most brilliant love relationships we’ve had over the years. And so we kept going. And even through uncertainty, and even through fear, and even through ups and downs, we keep going because we trust and we believe that that’s what we’re meant to do.

Your previous albums portray certain moments in your life and focus on specific themes. In that sense, there’s a deliberate intention not to repeat yourself. What are the concepts or ideas that surround Spell 31?

Lisa-Kaindé: Thank you for saying that! It is actually a conscious choice not to repeat ourselves and to continue to evolve through the albums. We also knew that this album was an album that we wanted to take some time to do. And we also wanted to celebrate things we hadn’t taken the time to celebrate. For example, in this album, there’s a love song that we wrote to each other. It’s called “Sister to Sister”. After many years of writing love songs for everybody, for partners, for our dad, for our mother, and for family members, I think it was important for us to declare our love for each other and write ourselves an anthem. It’s also an album that talks a lot about healing. It was made during the pandemic, so it was important for us to talk about that. And it’s also an album that talks about magic, the magic that we all feel within our own bodies. It talks about our ancestors and the power that they transmitted to us, generation after generation, and that we can find within our own bodies.

Actually, we have a question about “Sister to Sister”: how did you come up with it and how self-referential is the song?

Lisa-Kaindé: Oh my God. It’s the most self-referential. It’s like an autobiography of our sisterhood. As I was saying before, it came up because we realized that we had never written a love song for ourselves and for our relationship. And we also realized that it was something to celebrate, that without the fact that we’re twins and were born together and so different, yet complementary, Ibeyi wouldn’t exist. Naomi often says that if I made music on my own, it would be really depressing and no one would listen to it, even though it would be beautiful. And she says that if she did music on her own, it would be extremely popular and she would be really famous, but maybe it would be less interesting. So this really was an ode, a love song for ourselves, and a way to remind ourselves every night that we love each other and that we are here for each other, and that it’s us despite it all. 


What’s the story behind the title Spell 31? What does it mean?

Naomi: When we’re recording in the studio, there’s always some book with us, some book lying around in the studio that Richard or Lisa brought over…

Lisa-Kaindé: Richard Russell is our producer… 

Naomi: Yeah, we co-produced with him. We did our three albums with him. So we were doing this song, we were doing “Made of Gold”. At first, it was a love song, but it wasn’t working. So at one point, we talked about our ancestors and how much knowledge we have lost. We lost it when they burned the women who were called witches or when they killed our ancestors. So Richard asked us to open the book that was there, and it was The Egyptian Book of the Dead

Lisa-Kaindé: Which is a book full of spells that the Egyptians used to say when they embalmed the bodies of their loved ones so that they would be protected in the afterlife.

Naomi: So we open it and it was Spell 31. It says: Oh, you with a spine/ Who would work your mouth against this magic of mine/ It has been handed down in an unbroken line/ The sky encloses the stars/ I enclose magic.” And Lisa said, “We’re going to call the album ‘Spell 31.’” We asked her if she was sure, and she said yes. So that’s what we did. Oh, and I say the spell at the end of “Made of Gold”.

Lisa-Kaindé: It just felt right. And we felt protected by the spell as soon as we said it out loud. Because it was the first day in the studio when all of that happened, I really believed that the spell gave us all of the energy to continue to make this album.


Spell 31 features guest appearances from Jorja Smith, Pa Salieu, and Berwyn. How did the collaborations for each song come about?

Naomi: Jorja is someone we know from everyday life. So she came to the studio to see us and to listen to what we were doing. And she heard “Lavender & Red Roses” and she really liked it. So we asked her if she wanted to sing with us, and she said yes. It’s so beautiful because she’s kind of like our third sister, and because no one has an assigned verse and we all sing together. It was a beautiful moment. As for Pa Salieu, I’m a fan of his music and I’ve always loved what he does. One day Richard left the studio to go get some coffee and he ran into Pa’s manager. Then they got talking and Richard told him that he was in the studio with us, and his manager said, “Oh, I think Pa would like to do something with the girls.” So a few days later he was in the studio with us, and it was amazing. Because the only song he ever heard was “Made of Gold”, he understood everything we were talking about, and we didn’t have to explain to him what the song was about. He’s also an amazing human being. So he did his verse and it was mind-blowing. And as for Berwyn, we know him because Richard has a project called Everything Is Recorded with a lot of collaborating artists. So he was there. And we had this song called “Rise Above”, and we were thinking about having someone on there. So we told Jorja the day she was in the studio doing “Lavender & Red Roses”, and she said, “But why don’t you ask Berwyn?” And it was a really good idea. And that’s what we did. We’re really happy with all the collaborations. They are all people we love, and we love the work they do. So it was a blessing to have them.

Black Flag’s “Rise Above” isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of a cover for Ibeyi to do. How and why did you venture to reimagine a song by the legendary Californian hardcore punk band?

Lisa-Kaindé: Oh, it’s a funny story. Richard had the lyrics written. He came to the studio with the lyrics written on a piece of paper and asked us what we thought about it. Naomi and I saw the lyrics and we loved it. It felt like it was written yesterday, it felt so relevant to what we are living through now. So he was like, well, these lyrics are from this band called Black Flag. We didn’t know the band, we discovered it right there. Now we know them. I even read their book about touring which is really interesting. So he was like, “What do you think about it? How would you feel about doing your own version?” We didn’t get to hear the original, actually. In fact, fun fact, we haven’t heard the original yet. We’re still protecting our version. What was really funny is that it was a jam. So I had the lyrics in my hand, Naomi started playing the bass line, Richard started looping some drums, and literally, the song came out in five minutes. I think the beat was so strong between what Naomi and Richard were creating that the song flew out of us. And because I had the lyrics there, the melody just flew out. We recorded it. And that was the take.


Ibeyi is a bridge not only of musical styles, but also of cultures. You are European, but also proudly carry Latin American roots and Yoruba heritage. What things from your life and your family history do you take with you and implement into your music?

Naomi: We take everything. We often say that we have allowed ourselves not to choose, which I think is really important, and I think more people should do it. First of all not to be put in a box. Because that will allow you to take whatever and do whatever you want to do. Embrace everything you can. You know, we were born in Paris and we grew up there. So it helped. I mean, it’s amazing. France is amazing when it comes to culture. We went to music schools. We learned a lot about music and about culture in general, so we know we’re lucky. But also, you know, our dad was Cuban and that’s really part of – a big part of – our heritage, the Yoruba part specifically. However, we never try to force it. I think it’s more when it’s about us that we then put it into a song. We never try to put something Yoruba because we have to. It’s so special that it finds its place when it wants. We take as much as we can, and we’re very proud that we can mix and don’t just have to choose.

Is there any music that you listen to when you were younger that influenced you?

Naomi: Oh my God, a lot. We were listening to everything in the house. Many things. Even though we don’t like boxes, I’m going to say genres… We could listen to hip-hop, it could be funk, it could be jazz, Latin jazz, or classical music. So yeah, we are fans of music in general. Commercial, non-commercial, everything. Music to dance, music to rest. I mean, we’ve listened to a lot of people. And we still do, even though I feel like I listen to less music than before, which is weird. I think we’re all influenced in some way by everything we’ve listened to, and then we all do our own version of that. So yeah, it’s a lot.

Lisa-Kaindé: We’re also really influenced by art in general. So not just music, but also paintings, sculptures, movies, books, a lot of things. So it’s also beautiful to broaden all our sources of creativity and inspiration.


Have you always made music together? What prompted you to form a sister project such as Ibeyi?

Naomi: Not really. I mean, we tried it because we were in a music school for almost ten years. We tried it when our father passed away and we were 11 years old. But it was terribly bad, ha. And we have a video that our grandmother filmed that proves it. So we tried but it didn’t work. We just continued our lives doing classical music. Lisa was doing piano, I was doing percussion. And then we try again. I mean, Lisa started writing songs at 14, and from there, we started doing a few things together. But when we really started making music together was when we made an album, a little bit earlier maybe, when we were 17, 16. But the magic really happened when we were 18 and we made our first album.

Do you have time to go out and explore when you are on tour? What places and experiences do you like to enjoy on those trips?

Lisa-Kaindé: We often have zero time to explore, unfortunately, but sometimes we do and it becomes magical.

Naomi: Obviously we work a lot, but when there is some time, we make sure to explore the places we go. What can I say? Brazil is beautiful and the crowd there is insanely incredible. We loved the beauty of this country. And we’ve been to many other beautiful places. We work a lot and sometimes it’s difficult. But other times we’re lucky enough to go to beautiful places and meet beautiful people.

Lisa-Kaindé: I have to say that the most important thing for us when we tour is getting to know you. That’s also our way of traveling. You know, it’s to get to meet you as an audience. So come see us. We’re coming to the US all of March. And we’re so excited to see you! And to sing and to dance and to sweat and to cry together.

Dont miss Ibeyi when them come to the Miami Beach Bandshell on Sunday, April 2 in Miami. You can get tickets here.