Ibeyi: A Musical Representation of Pan-Africanism


Black people have been pioneers, movers and shakers in the music and entertainment world for decades. From the creation of the Blues and R&B, to the origin and development of Hip Hop and rap music, which continues to break the mold and inspire intense musical discussion. It often acts as a way for musical figures to talk about their own political opinions, family history and to otherwise voice their opinions and concerns. Fast forward to 2014, when Ibeyi entered with the release of their first single, "River."

Ibeyi, a French Afro-Cuban duo, makes music infused with R&B, jazz, electronic, trip hop and other genres. They sing in English, French, Yoruba and Spanish. Lisa-Kainde is lead vocalist and plays piano, while Naomi, plays percussion, including the cajon and the bata drum.

The Pan-Africanism movement represents the unity between those of the African Diaspora, no matter the continent on which they reside. Pan-Africanism as we know it today began at the beginning of the 20th century and received support by activists and public figures such as Malcolm X, Muammar Gaddafi, Kwame Nkrumah, Marcus Garvey and W.E.B. Du Bois. The movement seeks to unity people of African descent because of their common history and leading up to their common fate. Ibeyi’s music unites perspectives of people of African descent that live in Western Countries like France, those linked directly to their African heritage and Afro-Latinos in Central and Latin America. By combining their cultural influences into their music, they work to create a genre in which they exist as the sole pioneers and creators.

While Lisa-Kainde was born first, she is considered the younger twin because of the Yoruba belief that the youngest twin is sent out first to determine if the world is safe. This information isn't pertinent to our discussion, I just think that it's interesting.

Their song, "River", speaks directly on their Yoruba culture. The visuals are entirely captivating as the twins are alternatively dunked into the water, being baptized like they say in the lyrics. The song is a direct reference to Oshun, orisha of divine waters, prosperity, and fertility. Being washed in her waters is a way to cleanse the spirit or the soul, making the song more spiritual than religious. At the end of the song, they chant in Yoruba, asking Oshun, again, to wash them. Several of their other songs contain Yoruba as well, songs like "Ibeyi", "Mama Says", "Vale", "Away, Away" and others. The chants call to the appropriate orishas asking for protection, healing and other things for which the orishas are thought to be responsible. They mix chanting and traditional instruments with more modern production in order to create a fuller and more unique sound. Much of the music on Ash, their second studio album is political, which falls right in line with contemporary Black music.

Their music also confronts the topic of spirituality and ushers it into the Western world in a way that may be easier for people to relate to and understand. The combination of these cultures works to bridge the gap between Western and African heritage, passively advocating for unity between them. Their music even highlights similarities between experiences between cultures and continents.