|Album Review: Ibeyi - Ash|
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Feeling overwhelmed about the current madness and chaos echoing in the world? Then get Ibeyi's new sophomore album Ash on rotation for 12 tracks filled with strong anthems and statements that will leave you feeling hopeful and globally united. Ash was released September 29th, 2017 via XL Recordings.
Recorded last year during the 2016 US presidential election, the album is fueled by politics and the disarray that followed. One of the strongest messages on the album focuses on female power and equality, which should be unsurprising after Lisa-Kainde and Naomi made appearances in the critically acclaimed visual for Beyonce's Lemonade. The album also focuses on issues of racial inequality and the uneasiness in today's world.
Following in the footsteps of their debut album, Ash is a layered mix of electro-soul and R&B with Yoruba ancestral rhythms and chants and Cuban influenced percussion. Continuing in her father's footsteps, Naomi plays both the cajon and bata on this record. The album also has saxophonist Kamasi Washington, pianist Chilly Gonzales, soul singer Meshell Ndegeocello, and rapper Mala Rodriguez featured. Along with the mix of English, Spanish, and Yoruba lyrics, Ash is a genre that cannot be labeled and a complex sound that is brilliant.
One of the first tracks, "Away Away" introduces the chaotic and unpredictable world with the lyrics "Through my window/ I see the day falling" and "Should I be racing/ My fate of flames, my fate of flames?". Then the energetic chorus strikes, "I don’t give up, baby/ I feel the pain/ But I’m alive" surging with hope, power, and positivity. Sending a message to be happy and alive and to band together to make a difference.
The next strong message is in "Deathless". A rallying chant for all those who have ever felt targeted or oppressed, this track tells the story of Lisa-Kainde being illegitimately confronted at 16 by a police officer based on her appearance. Touching on racism and police profiling and brutality, this anthem is nothing short of relevant.
Next up is "I Wanna Be Like You", a song Lisa-Kainde wrote for Naomi. Although they are twins, the two girls are very different from one another. Lisa-Kaindé explains, "Sometimes I want to be like Naomi. I want her eyes, to feel the rhythm as deeply as she does, to dance like her, to be as wild as she is; sometimes I just want to be her for even a few seconds."
The stand out track with the most direct message is "No Man is Big Enough For My Arms", a powerful anthem for women rights. In 2016 Michelle Obama gave a speech in New Hampshire, a month before the election, that focused on the lack of human dignity and respect Donald Trump had for women. The entire song is focused around excerpts from that speech with "The measure of any society is how it treats its women and girls" is repeated throughout. Although only a couple lyrics contributed by Lisa-Kainde, the few she does are a strong statement. Mixed between Michelle Obama saying "Your story is my story", an excerpt from a speech she gave to low-income Muslim schoolgirls in London, Lisa-Kainde chants "Won't stand still/ Won't be shamed". Even the song title alone echoes feminism, with it originating from Jean-Michel Basquiat's lover and partner Suzanne Mallouk talking about marriage.
The longest track on the album at over 6 minutes, "Transmission/Michaelion", is a song about sharing how you feel and listening to others feelings regardless of what it is. The lyrics “Should I share how I feel/ Or should I bury it inside?” point to how open the album is about issues that Ibeyi care about. The song includes the excerpt "I don't know what the water wanted" from Claudia Rankine's Citizen. This powerful excerpt displays the inequality and racism felt post-Katrina. There are also several excerpts from Frida Kahlo's journal. The last line of the song “Pies para qué los quiero si tengo alas pa’ volar.” translates to "Feet, but for what do I need them when I have wings to fly". All in all a very powerful and moving song.
“We know we can’t change the world, but we do believe that our music brings hope, and that’s the energy we transmit when we perform,” Lisa-Kaindé told Vogue. Ash is the residue from the chaotic world we have all experienced in politics, racism, and inequality for the past year, yet the dynamic duo give us all hope that we will rise from it and be stronger than ever.