It’s all about the voice, as early evening weekend light entertainment is currently telling us. They’re not far wrong of course, although it’s not always about the technical perfection that is often held up as the standard to which others should strive. When it comes to French Cuban duo Ibeyi, there’s no doubting the overriding quality that has had plaudits coming at them from all directions. Twin sisters born to a famous musical father, Lisa-Kaindé and Naomi Diaz bring a magical otherworldliness to a musical landscape so often crying out for something different, mainly due to their use of the Nigerian rooted Yobura language.
Ushering in their debut album without the aid of instrumentation, a gorgeously raw tone is set and remains intact for the length of record. When the musical backing does arrive, it’s subtle, understated and largely electronic in nature – not surprising seeing as the XL label has given them a home. For the first half Ibeyi is utterly entrancing, weaving those studio sounds with those of their mixed heritage. ‘Oya’, ‘River’ and ‘Ghosts’ are all wonderful, balanced nicely by the more natural ‘Behind The Curtain’.
So an early contender for album of the year, right? Sadly not for, as much as the first half impresses, the second disappoints. For some reason the inspiration leaves them and the record weaves a slow, far too steady path. It all seems so one dimensional, utilising the same approach on track after track. Not even their still startling vocal presence is enough to distract you from the fact that what started so well has become formulaic. If those early tracks had been spread more carefully across the record the effect might have softened but, as it is, it takes the strident a capella closing of the title track to pull Ibeyi out of a tail spin. Perhaps to expect a pair of musicians in their early twenties to achieve perfection is churlish though. Instead let’s revel in the positive and look forward to what comes next.