Sis­ter act Ibeyi makes pos­i­tive mu­sic to counter the dark times

The Georgia Straight - - Music -

Trau­matic as the past year has been for those 2

who are tol­er­ant, pro­gres­sive, and gen­er­ally in­ter­ested in mak­ing the world a bet­ter place, it’s im­por­tant to re­mem­ber noth­ing gets bet­ter by giv­ing in to the dark side.

That was very much on the minds of twins Lisa-kaindé and Naomi Diaz when they were work­ing on Ash, the sec­ond full-length from their genre-mash­ing elec­tro project Ibeyi. Reached in New York on a con­fer­ence call, the sis­ters ac­knowl­edge that the al­bum, al­though recorded in Lon­don, Eng­land, was in many ways coloured by the sea change that was start­ing to take place in Amer­ica last fall, the op­ti­mism and de­cency of the Barack Obama years giv­ing way to Trumpian anger and hos­til­ity.

“While we were record­ing the Amer­i­can elec­tion was go­ing on, so there was this ten­sion in the air,” Lisa-kaindé notes. “Ac­tu­ally, I think you can feel that in the al­bum. It gave us a lot of en­ergy and a big want to do an al­bum that would sound big and strong and pow­er­ful and vis­ceral.”

The Diaz sib­lings were raised in Paris, France, af­ter be­ing born in Cuba, their dad be­ing Buena Vista So­cial Club col­lab­o­ra­tor Miguel “Anga” Diaz. Com­ing from a coun­try that’s en­dured decades of iso­la­tion and eco­nomic hard­ship has made them more aware than most that you don’t give up the fight when the go­ing gets tough.

With Ash, they’ve pro­duced a record that man­ages the dif­fi­cult trick of be­ing thought­ful with­out be­ing preachy. Songs in­cor­po­rate ev­ery­thing from chillout-room hip-hop to down­tempo elec­tron­ica to hym­nal folk and deal clev­erly with is­sues such as gen­der pol­i­tics and racial pro­fil­ing. “No Man Is Big Enough for My Arms” sets snip­pets of Michelle Obama speeches to space-drift keys and a soul-sis­ter back­ing cho­rus, “Numb” re­tools Afrobeat in the foggy back al­leys of Bris­tol, and “Me Voy” is reg­gae­ton at its most di­alled down.

What shines through is that the Di­azes never sound any­thing less than thrilled to be alive. Asked if they’d be as op­ti­mistic if they were writ­ing Ash to­day, Lisa-kaindé doesn’t miss a beat with her re­sponse.

“I think it would be the same, or even more pos­i­tive,” Naomi says. “In dark times we re­ally need to re­al­ize that we can change things. In or­der to change things, you have to stay hope­ful.”

The women of Ibeyi could have been for­given for be­ing any­thing but. There have been mo­ments in their lives that should have left them an­gry at the world around them. Con­sider the elec­tro-strafed night­mare “Death­less”, in­spired by Lisakaindé be­ing stopped on the street by Paris po­lice for no cause when she was younger. (Sam­ple lyrics in­clude “Do you smoke?/what’s your name?/ Do you know why I’m here?” and “Sweet 16, frozen with fear.”)

Rather than stay up­set at a sys­tem that sees noth­ing wrong with judg­ing peo­ple by the colour of their skin, Naomi sug­gests the world might be a bet­ter place if we all reached out to our fel­low hu­mans rather than be­ing afraid of them.

And that is what she loves about Ibeyi: that she and her sis­ter can look out onto the dance floor and see peo­ple from dif­fer­ent so­cial, po­lit­i­cal, and eco­nomic back­grounds com­ing to­gether as one har­mo­nious, joy­ful mass. Mu­sic is in­deed a pow­er­ful tool.

“It’s funny—you can be in Paris in your neigh­bour­hood, your lovely neigh­bour­hood, and then hear about Fox News de­scrib­ing it as a no-go zone,” Lisa-kaindé says. “The pre­sen­ter says ‘I’ve been to Afghanistan, I’ve been to Iraq, but re­ally I’m scared in this neigh­bour­hood in Paris.’ Be­cause it’s your neigh­bour­hood, you know they are ly­ing. But then it be­comes the truth.

“It al­ways boils down to ed­u­ca­tion, and go­ing to places you don’t know, and to be­ing cu­ri­ous,” she con­tin­ues. “Fear takes that away from us—it de­stroys the cu­rios­ity of the other. Maybe the fact that we grew up be­tween Cuba and Paris—two com­pletely dif­fer­ent worlds—is why we are not afraid of ‘the other’. We all, as hu­man be­ings, need to unify again and re­al­ize that we’re not that dif­fer­ent.”

> MIKE USINGER

Ibeyi plays the Com­modore on Wed­nes­day (Novem­ber 15).

Ro­driguez says out­sider sta­tus unites Troubadours

De­spite news of an­other mass 2

shoot­ing in Texas, there are also great things emerg­ing from the Lone Star State—such as the Texas Troubadours tour, which is tak­ing Car­rie Ro­driguez, Ruthie Foster, and Jim­mie Dale Gil­more to the West Coast this week. When the three walk out onto the Chan Cen­tre for the Per­form­ing Arts’ stage, they’ll be rep­re­sent­ing the new Texas, where an African-amer­i­can singer-gui­tarist, a Chi­cana song­writer and fid­dler, and an old white cow­boy can hap­pily co­ex­ist.

It prob­a­bly doesn’t hurt that the cow­boy’s a Bud­dhist.

“We were re­hears­ing the other day and Jim­mie ac­tu­ally said ‘Man, we don’t even have to sing any­thing. We just have to walk out on-stage and we’re mak­ing a state­ment,’” Ro­driguez tells the Straight from her Austin home. “So it’s great—and also, mu­si­cally, we’re hav­ing a great time find­ing the com­mon­al­i­ties and fig­ur­ing out how to play on each other’s songs, be­cause we are all quite dif­fer­ent.”

But maybe not that dif­fer­ent, ex­ter­nal trap­pings aside. “All three of us prob­a­bly share some feel­ings of be­ing an out­sider, in cer­tain ways, and that comes through in our songs,” she adds. “So we find com­mon ground in that.”

For B.C. au­di­ences, Ro­driguez is prob­a­bly the un­known quan­tity in this triple-threat con­cert pack­age. The deeply soul­ful and of­ten quite po­lit­i­cal Foster has long been a lo­cal favourite, thanks to reg­u­lar Van­cou­ver Folk Mu­sic Fes­ti­val and Rogue Folk Club ap­pear­ances. The 72-year-old Gil­more is part of the same gen­er­a­tion that pro­duced le­gends like Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark, not to men­tion his band­mates in the Flat­landers, Joe Ely and Butch Han­cock. De­spite hav­ing seven solo re­leases to her name, Ro­driguez is a rel­a­tive new­comer—and even she ad­mits that she didn’t re­ally come into her stride un­til she re­leased Lola, in 2016.

“I don’t know if I was ever 100 per­cent my­self un­til I made Lola,” she ex­plains. “I mean, I’m proud of my body of work, but I think I’m just fi­nally find­ing some­thing that’s hon­est to who I am, and how I grew up, and what I grew up lis­ten­ing to.”

It’s not just that Lola marks the first time that she’s sung, on record, in Span­ish. It’s more that she’s fully em­braced her fam­ily’s mu­si­cal her­itage: not only is her dad, David Ro­driguez, a fine song­writer in his own right, her great-aunt, Eva Garza, was an ac­claimed singer and ac­tor dur­ing the 1940s and ’50s.

“She was in Mex­i­can films and had gold records, and she was a fam­ily leg­end,” Ro­driguez says. “My grand­mother talked about her of­ten when I was grow­ing up—‘oh, my fa­mous sis­ter Eva! She knew all the movie stars!’ So I never took her that se­ri­ously un­til I was in my early 20s and ac­tu­ally got a record­ing of her mu­sic. I was com­pletely blown away, and since then I’ve wanted to share her legacy.”

Sing­ing in Span­ish ap­par­ently calls for a more open and emo­tional ap­proach. “Some­times it’s not pretty,” she notes. “Some­times I’m sing­ing these deadly Span­ish love songs, and there’s parts that are raw.”

That ap­proach works just as well for Ro­driguez’s own songs—es­pe­cially those, like Lola’s tough-but­ten­der “Llano Es­ta­cado”, that read as news bul­letins from Amer­ica’s con­tested south­ern fron­tier.

“When I was writ­ing those songs, we were get­ting many Cen­tral Amer­i­can kids and moth­ers com­ing through il­le­gally, and they were all be­ing held in these huge de­ten­tion cen­tres—and this was pre-trump,” she re­ports. “So the songs are even more cur­rent now, even more rel­e­vant. It’s bizarre.

“It’s all out in the open now, and it’s ugly,” she adds. “But I think get­ting it all out is the only way to move for­ward.”

> ALEXAN­DER VARTY

Car­rie Ro­driguez, Ruthie Foster, and Jim­mie Dale Gil­more play the Chan Cen­tre for the Per­form­ing Arts on Wed­nes­day (Novem­ber 8).

Hav­ing been born in Cuba and raised in Paris, France, Ibeyi’s Lisa-kaindé and Naomi Diaz bring a unique global per­spec­tive to the songs they write.

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