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Ibeyi’s 'Ash' Is An Empowering Soundtrack to the Elements and the Fight for Equality

Ibeyi’s music encapsulates Afro-Latino culture and tradition into a united harmony in their latest album, 'Ash.'

“I carried this for years," the twins chant, carefully, then more forcefully, in the opening of their sophomore album, Ash.


The chant is part battle cry, part anecdotal lesson passed down from generations, part famous last words uttered before one's dying breath. Or, eerily, it can be the revelations of a person who speaks to souls long gone, who senses that humanity is in need of assistance.

Ibeyi's music transcends the twin bodies they share: it breathes life into generational trauma and oppression that people of color face, it remedies the aching stretches of old spirits begging not to be forgotten or removed, it encapsulates Afro-Latino culture and tradition into a united harmony. It personifies the world's warnings of danger and destruction—both man-made and natural—but assures us there is pulchritude in demise.

With echoing, repetitive choruses blending in and out, Ash sounds like a family of melodies, not merely two women. Earlier, I thought to myself that Ibeyi wouldn't be as stunning were it a solo artist and not a duo. Together they conjure the power of many histories and past lives, all by channeling the forces from their indescribable connection. It's beyond sisterly bond, beyond familiarity; it's the magic of sharing a womb with another woman, of being created in the same space and time as another—of splitting souls within a cocoon.

This spellbinding relationship the twins share lends them ethereal, future and past telling vibrations. Their lyrics feel relevant yet timeless, as if ancestors are speaking and singing through them, revealing secrets of human mistakes and earthly sorrows. Listening to them gives joy, awakening and celebration, along with a sense of foreboding. Perhaps because our world is not perfect, and Ibeyi can sense the stirring in the ground.

Right now is equally the most exciting and exhausting time to be alive. Exciting because communities of color, of different genders, sexualities, abilities and ethnic backgrounds are coming together to dismantle white male heteronormative supremacy. Exhausting because the push back against these alliances is relentless. Trump has been the most daunting and dangerously idiotic president I have witnessed, and the fact he's still in office is puzzling and problematic. Despite political and social exhaustion, we are experiencing environmental exhaustion: the ferocious hurricane that ravished the Caribbean is a warning from the earth that we shouldn't take in stride. But I fear we will.

With “Deathless," a song about Lisa-Kainde's wrongful arrest as a teen, and “No Man is Big Enough For My Arms," Ibeyi places activism and social awareness at the forefront of their lyrics. “Whatever happens, we are deathless," they belt, reaffirming that we, people of color, have an wavering ability to resurrect from the cultural, metaphorical and literal deaths our people endure. In “No Man is Big Enough for My Arms," Michelle Obama's words of feminism, social change, gender equality and education are the backbone for Ibeyi's urgent outcries. Their muscular vocals weave around Michelle's statements, sending support and blood to an ever evolving movement of intersectional feminism.

Yet, it is the symbolism within their stories of water, earth and ash that purge into the core of power and healing in a visceral way. “Waves," a minimal, almost bare track positions Ibeyi as twin bodies of water communicating with an unpredictable, stubborn earth. “I am water under the ground," they confess, but not to our dismay. As women, being water beneath something sounds passive and oppressive. But here, this is a transformative and empowering state: water must move from one place to another, must change form. It's true evolution is something massive and groundbreaking: waves.

Ibeyi has found consolation in water in many of their melodies, from earlier hits such as “River", to Ash's “Transmission/Michaelion." I could write a whole dissertation on the artistic utilization of water as a metaphor for healing, persistence, peace, spirituality and more, for our histories are connected to water—from being unwillingly transported to foreign lands by boat, to respecting the creative and sustainable necessity of this life giving substance. For Ibeyi, it's all of these and more: it's their form, their element, their restorative and destructive wholes.

Ash, however, is the solid remnants of fire; the drifting particles that don't go away, the evidence that a flame has been ignited. Our world is dangerously close to experiencing some sort of grand epiphany: whether it is an apocalyptical divide of our own making, or an environmental transformation that leads to our undoing. If we are set aflame by the heat of our voices, the flicker of social inequality and the embers of protest and persistence—then our ashes will be the prevailing particles that symbolize our progress. But if our world is crumbling because of neglect, ignorance and denial about environmental changes, our demise may be inevitable.

“We can feel something's wrong. Can we keep going on? We are ashes, moving around," the twins sing in the final, title track. Is Ibeyi preparing us for imminent political warfare, or environmental and spiritual renewal?

Video
Photo: James Kwan.

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