Spell 31

Spell 31

When the world shut down, the Diaz twins of Ibeyi were unsure when or if they’d be able to record again. With Lisa in London and Naomi in Paris, the future looked like a question mark. Spell 31 became their answer. “We were coming out of two years of so much pain and violence that it felt like the most important thing was to heal,” Lisa tells Apple Music of the inspiration for their third LP. “It became so clear to us that we make albums for ourselves first. We made the songs we need.” Borders opened back up, the album started to materialize, and Naomi began to shuffle back and forth between her home and her sister’s as the pair worked with their longtime producer (and label head) Richard Russell. “I had to go to London a lot and quarantine every time. I was going there and doing a lot of PCRs and shit like that,” she recalls. Listening to Spell 31, though, it’s hard to tell that it came together under duress. The vocals are bewitching and the arrangements sublime, accentuating the spiritual elements that underscore Ibeyi’s music. There’s a shift in perspective here as well. Slowing down allowed them to take stock of their journey, both personal and professional. They sound more confident than ever and with a vision that is equally refined. “We felt that the new album and the new phase of our life had to be aligned with how we felt now,” Lisa says. “And so, we took time to write songs that healed us and also write songs to celebrate those last 10 years and the things that are important for us because we had never taken the time to do that either.” Below, Ibeyi explains how each track came together. “Sangoma” Lisa: “It felt like it was the perfect bridge between our last album and this new one. It also is telling you exactly what is going to happen through the album, because it’s a patchwork of moments that felt like healing to us. In the song, I said, ‘A church in open air,’ but I also say, ‘Yuri’s cards and the stars.’ And basically, Yuri is a friend of mine that read tarot to me a few days before we started the recording, and I asked her, ‘What are we supposed to be making?’ And she said, ‘A church in open air.’ She said it’s a church made of nothing—four pieces of wood, but it’s in open air and everybody meets there, and everybody heals, you included. The funny thing is, I said to Naomi, ‘Yuri just told me that we’re supposed to be making a church in open air.’ And she said, ‘Girl, a church in open air? OK, but where we can twerk?’ So, this is exactly what we are making—this is us in a nutshell.” “O Inle” Lisa: “‘O Inle’ is a song for Inle, who is the god of health and of healing. The idea was with ‘Sangoma,’ where we say, ‘Somo milagrosas/curándoles el alma,’ which means we’re made of miracles, and we cured their souls—sangomas are healers from South Africa. And so, we would pick you up and take you to the top of a mountain, and then with ‘O Inle,’ we’d be showering you with light and healing and asking Inle to heal all of us. And then, we are ready for ‘Made of Gold’ and for everything that comes after, which is Ibeyi 2.0.” “Made of Gold” Naomi: “We started doing it in Dorset because we were recording the album in London and in Dorset in two different houses. ‘Made of Gold’ was the first song we made all together. At one point, we were doing other songs and it was a week or two weeks later. And then, Richard [Russell] went to grab a coffee, and he bumped into Pa [Salieu]’s manager, and two days later he was there. It was really magical—he’s a special human being.” Lisa: “And this is the song that gave the name of the album also. Spell 31 is the name of the spell that is at the end of ‘Made of Gold.’” “Sister 2 Sister” Lisa: “‘Sister 2 Sister’ came out of a want to celebrate our sisterhood and our twinhood, which is crazy because we had made two albums prior and never really talked about being twins, which is the reason why we’re making music together. It became our little anthem. Also, it was a way to reference our past work because we referenced ‘River’ in this song, and we also say, ‘Here’s how you say Ibeyi.’ It felt like a way for us to say, ‘There’s been 10 years of us making this—you should know our name now.’ It was a way to flex and be proud of what we had done.” “Creature (Perfect)” Lisa: “‘Creature (Perfect)’ came from the pandemic and realizing that I had been trying to be perfect for so many people for so long and failing miserably at it, and that I was not happy. By trying to be perfect and morphing myself into what I thought every person in front of me wanted, I hadn’t discovered who I was fully. And so, it was my song to stop that and to embrace that I’m just a creature and embrace that. I can’t pursue this perfection because it was making me incredibly unhappy.” Naomi: “And also because [perfection] doesn’t exist.” “Tears Are Our Medicine” Naomi: “‘Tears Are Our Medicine’ is a way of saying find your way to release what you want to do. For some people, it’s tears—but just find your way to release everything that is happening to your body. During COVID, I think a lot of people finally did it, but I think if they had done it earlier, it would have been less painful. And so, it’s a way of saying let it go. It’s not a weakness, it’s a strength.” “Foreign Country” Naomi: “It was meant to be a song, and then we made this interlude, which I love. It's really genuine, and Pa is doing all the ad-libs. It was just having fun.” Lisa: “And there’s samples. There’s our mom talking about what it means to be twins, and there’s also a personal message from her. And there’s Naomi saying this sentence that we heard.” Naomi: “We didn’t see it. Richard, he was looking at something with his daughter, and it was saying the sister thing, the twin thing is like a foreign country. I said it [on the interlude], but we don’t recall the TV show.” “Lavender & Red Roses” Naomi: “Jorja [Smith], she’s a really good friend. It’s a relationship outside even of music. And she just came to see us, just to hear what we had done. We were not talking about making something together at all, and it happened. That’s what is beautiful. And in this song, nobody has a verse, but I feel like our voices go really well together, and it shows the intimacy of our relationship outside of music.” Lisa: “Also, ‘Lavender & Red Roses’ was one of the only songs [Richard and I] wrote while we were in the studio, so it was a really collaborative song that we all wrote together, which was a beautiful thing. Also, it’s funny because when I hear ‘Lavender & Red Roses,’ I realize how much we’ve grown as women. On our first album, we wrote a song called ‘Stranger/Lover,’ and at the end of this song, we say, ‘Come heal in my arms.’” Naomi: “And you’re not coming to heal in my arms anymore. Hell, no, you’re going to heal by yourself.” “Rise Above” Lisa: “That’s a cover of a group called Black Flag, a punk group. And funnily enough, at the time, we didn’t know Black Flag. And Richard had probably listened to the song before going to the studio and thought, ‘Damn, the lyrics are really good.’ And he brought the lyrics out and gave them to us. We created the melody right there and then. Naomi was doing some of the beats on bass. The funny part is we still haven’t heard the original, which is crazy. We have heard a lot of Black Flag songs but not the original because it feels like we’re still trying to protect our version a little bit.” Naomi: “BERWYN is on this track. He listened to it, and he did his verse really fast. For him, listening to this song made him think of George Floyd, and it’s beautiful. I think the thing is, with this song, you can think about everything. It could be for women. It could be for minorities. It’s a song for the oppressed. It could be something small or something really big, but I think this song is just empowering.” “Los Muertos” Naomi: “We’re saying the names of our family members that are gone, friends of the family that are gone, some artists in it that have changed or that have impacted us in some way. We could have put way more artists, but we were not going to do a 20-minute song. It’s a cover of a song that our dad [Angá Diaz] made called ‘Rezos,’ but he was saying his own names, the names of the artists that he loved, musicians that he loved. In between each name, there’s a voice saying ‘ibae,’ and that’s his voice. We knew for a long time that we wanted to do our own version of it. And I think it’s beautiful because it’s just thinking about people we love and—” Lisa: “Allowing them to be a part of this incredible adventure. It’s like celebrating them through our music.”

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