On the duo's second album, Ibeyi's thundering beats and soulful jazz are all boldly colored substance.
If duo Ibeyi's self-titled debut album paid monochromatic tribute to the past, then Ash, the second album by twin sisters Lisa-Kaindé and Naomi Diaz, is a boldly colored indictment of the present day. Singing in powerful harmonies (Lisa-Kaindé typically takes the lead) and accompanied by keys, thundering beats (Naomi follows in father Anga Díaz's footsteps on the cajón, among other percussion), and an impressive roster of sampled and featured artists, Ibeyi holds a light up to both societal injustice and personal longing, setting both on fire over the course of the group's most recent album.
Ash opens by sampling Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares on "I Carried This for Years" as the singers repeat the title over and over. That this in and of itself makes for such a compelling minute and a half bears noting; as simple as the composition is, the Diazes imbue it with pain and experience that should be far beyond their young years - but of which they demonstrate firsthand knowledge as they sing. They address this in the bittersweet "Away Away": "Though I'm young / Through my window / I see the day falling / Will the promise be held?"
The album finds Ibeyi meeting harsh realities with unstoppable strength: invincible cries of "We are deathless!" stand strong against racial profiling and brutality on "Deathless", while "No Man Is Big Enough For My Arms" quotes Michelle Obama's famous New Hampshire rally speech against institutional sexism and the politicians who endorse it. Like the speech, both songs hammer the wrongs by focusing on how they can be overcome; these are heavy subjects, but Ibeyi's music is ready to turn the tide.
Like the duo's lyrics, Ibeyi's music is all substance, each sound careful and heartfelt. On Ash, this care is most effective when the singers' voices take a firm spot in the foreground: "Waves" evokes its title as Naomi Diaz names pieces of herself, her voice cresting at the end of each refrain of "Waves, waves, waves," then shrinking once more so that it can grow again. Behind her voice, Lisa-Kaindé plays understated piano chords, the accompaniment adding outstanding depth to the piece.
When guest artists come to the table, the colors change, each subset of artists finding its own palette. Mala Rodríguez joins the sisters on "Me Voy" for a more upbeat and electronically-enhanced tropical pop piece; vocally, it isn't one of the strongest parts of the album, but the percussion is at its peak, and it makes for a very distinct track. Meshell Ndegeocello brings her cosmic touch to "Transmission/Michaelion", which ripples outward, a subtle epic that unfurls brilliantly with the voices of the IDMC Gospel Choir. Back on "Deathless" is Kamasi Washington's sax, syncopated with the backing beats and climbing high to underline the tensions within the song.
Near the end, the songs start to lengthen, taking on slower rhythms and more languid touches of electronics. At the very end of the album, "Ash" is aptly named, a song that both falls from the sky and lingers on the air, never touching the ground. It begins with words in the Yoruba language, a callback to the Diaz sisters' Afro-Cuban heritage; they alternate between that and English lyrics that point to an ephemeral spirit: "No more heart, no more home / And keep walking alone / We are actionless / Moving around / Ash."
The sisters are young, but they show far older, wiser souls than most of their peers. In their music and lyrics are reflections and observations that ring true, with an urgency that deserves to be felt. Ash is an album that captures this exact moment in time, and does so with unquestionable virtuosity.