Ibeyi Spell 31

Ibeyi – Spell 31 (XL Recordings)

After a debut album that focused on family mourning and a follow-up describing rebirth, Ibeyi have returned after a five-year absence with a third record entitled ‘Spell 31′ that has the subject of healing as its nucleus. The French-Afro-Cuban sisters continue to use the strengths that they have displayed up until now to help them explore different forms of healing; their respect for historical traditions and languages, and their mash of modern hiphop with minimal Yoruba spirituality.

On opener ‘Sangoma’, in which they sing in both Spanish and English, the twins take on the role of a sangoma for their families. A sangoma is one of two types of traditional healers in Southern Africa medicine practice, but unlike inyanga they have more fortune-telling attributes. Sangomas are called upon to help cure the ill, who they deem are to be sick due to witchcraft, impurity or as a punishment for disrespecting ancestry. They perform rituals that include chanting, dancing and playing the drums. Lisa-Kainde and Naomi Diaz take on this responsibility when singing “How do we heal? And while you cry. Prayers rush out of our mouths,” while African drums are subtly hit behind their voices. The drums and chanting increase in intensity on 33-second interlude ‘O Inle’. However on here they relinquish the healing power and pray in the Kinyarwanda language to Inle, a god of health in the Yoruba culture; a deep rooted part of their heritage that they have expressed many times previously.

‘Made of Gold’, which is sung with Pa Salieu, is one of a series of songs to welcome collaboration on Spell 31, along with ‘Rise Above’ (featuring Trindad-born rapper BERWYN) and Lavender & Red Roses (featuring Jorja Smith). ‘Made Of Gold’  and it acknowledges the Sangoma view that we need to respect the generations that came before us but it also references the powerful spells seen in The Book of the Dead, a collection of rituals used in ancient Egypt that give the deceased that they were burying divine protection as they entered the afterlife. This is also where the album title of ‘Spell 31’  comes from. With spell 31 being the chapter in the book that inspired them the most; it being a formula for fighting off demons that try to take the power off the souls that are entering the underworld. “Who would work your mouth against this magic of mine. It has been handed down in an unbroken line.” Like on ‘Foreign Country’, a track about the special bond that twins can possess, ‘Made Of Gold’ includes laughter and fun conversations that Ibeyi were having with Pa Salieu, adding a nice D-I-Y production style to the record.

Although there are set practices and traditions for healing that we can take inspiration from, Ibeyi point out on ‘Tears Are Our Medicine’ that healing can come unlimited forms. One benefit that Covid lockdowns gave humanity was the chance to re-analyze one’s thoughts and Ibeyi discovered during this intermission that crying their hearts out was their emotional healing: I see you’re frustrated, yet you don’t cry. You’re finding out how sacred as time goes by. Process, purify. You’ll feel lighter, much lighter”.

‘Spell 31’ ends with another tribute to past generations. This time  Lisa-Kainde and Naomi Diaz’s late father Anga Diaz, as well as other people that the sisters want to say thank you and show respect for. An important conga and cajon player in the Latin Jazz scene, Ibeyi already eulogized Anga Diaz on their 2015 debut, however on this album finale ‘Los Muertos (The Dead)’ they go one further and sample one of his songs (‘Rezos’), as well as his voice. Copying the structure of the original but this time with Ibeyi providing their own take, it consists of a sung list of deceased people (including Prince) that like the healing traditions of the past have given the sisters crucial motivation in their lives.

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