THE IBEYI ALBUM: FACTS, MYTH, LYRICS, AND ALLEGORY – @ibeyiofficial

_new_Tw_gallery_img(1)THE IBEYI ALBUM: FACTS, MYTH, LYRICS, AND ALLEGORY – @ibeyiofficial

In discussing Ibeyi – the twins, and the album – I have decided to divide this essay to three parts. First part will highlight Nigeria’s peculiar state with respect to multiple births in the world, and what scientists think is the cause.

The second part will discuss the yoruba meaning of Ibeyi, the ibeyi tradition, its evolution, and how we Nigerians should embrace yorubas of other countries as our siblings. It will also discuss the true history of yemọja, ṣọngo, ọṣun, and ọya as it relates to the twins hospitality.

The third part will look into the lyrics of five of the songs in the Ibeyi album – Mama Says, River, Yanira, Oya, and Think Of You. I will be discussing the lyrics and my interpretation of the allegory in the music videos, as they relate to the Ibeyis actually living out the myth of the Oriṣa ọṣun, ọya, and Ṣọngo.

Though I have separated these parts with titles, they are a whole; so each part in its fluidity, is part of the other.

TWINS IN NIGERIA.

Nigeria, more specifically, the yorubas, which includes those in the Republic of Benin have been found to have the highest rates of twins and multiples in the world. In fact, I believe that every average Nigerian, or more precisely, yoruba, domiciled in Nigeria is friends with at least five set of twins. So it’s not surprising to know that of nineteen births, three sets of twins are born. And knowing fully well that most rural areas in Nigeria don’t have appropriate medical documentation tools and skills, the exact rate of twins might be more than the aforementioned speculation.

It’s been said that the yorubas attribute it to their diet, and more specifically, a particular yam. This yam has been found to contain a high substance that is similar to the estrogen hormone; thereby bringing forth multiple ovulation.

Another report has it that the dramatic increase of twins in the United States might be due to the fact that milk in the United States has synthetic growth hormones in it, which produces a protein called the Insulin-like Growth Factor Binding Protein (IGFBP). This protein has been speculated to increase the chances of one giving birth to multiples.

It has also been speculated that the number of July daylight hours in Nigeria may also have an impact on multiple births. These long daylight allows for a higher secretion of the Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) in women.

OR it might just be due to how the Yorubas celebrate the Twins. We will get to that in details in the second part.

IBEYI: MEANING, EVOLUTION, AND A CALL FOR THE APPRECIATION OF OUR DIFFERENCES.

The eponymous album, Ibeyi, pronounced ‘he-bay-yi’ is what the Cuban yorubas call their twins. The Nigerian yorubas however call theirs ‘Ibeji’. I’m not surprised at the change of ‘j’ to ‘y’. It’s common to latin or latin-influenced languages like spanish to pronounce alphabet J as Y. As in Ajax being pronounced as ‘Ayax’, and a host of other words.

This J to Y phonetic pronunciation is also true to Dutch and Afrikaans, where the I sound stands for Y, I and J.

So if the Cuban Yorubas have also been influenced by latin phonetics, it’s fine; Ibeyi, it is. Yoruba in Nigeria has been influenced by English, Hausa and Arabic, so there’s no throwing of stones here.

The word Ibeji, in Nigeria, is a fusion of two words. One is ‘ibi’ which means ‘giving birth’, and the other is ‘eji’, and eji means two’. When triplets are born, they are called ‘ibẹta’; ẹta means three. Quadruplets are called ‘ibẹrin’, and Ẹrin means four. And so goes the chain, one just adds ‘ib’ to the number of children that was born.

Eyi in Nigeria’s yoruba is not a number, at best, it means ‘this one’, or ‘this’. But I do not intend to criticize the word ‘ibeyi’, instead, I’m appreciating it. It is ridiculous, to write the least, that any yoruba person should criticize the Cuban dialect, because, even in Nigeria alone, there are tens of yoruba dialects, and they all pronounce words differently, with some common and universal format and words. Of the tens, I speak three fluently, and understand five other dialects. Others are quite difficult to understand. They are deep and tongue twisting. And the Cuban yoruba has been added to the dialect I do not understand, sadly.

Yoruba Nigerians must come to realize that Yoruba doesn’t belong to them alone now. There are indigenous yorubas through out the entire West Africa, and if Berlin Conference had not divided us by Nations, the Yoruba kingdom would have been a large one. And Berlin Conference is not the only thing that divided us, Slave Trade also left its mark on the fabric of our division crisis. So that we have siblings in Cuba, Haiti, Trinidad, Puerto Rico, Brazil, Jamaica, England, France, the Carribean, and the United States.

If you don’t know about the Berlin Conference and Slave Trade by now, please do yourself a favor by researching on them, and educating yourself. And if anyone asks you why you still bother with such histories, tell them that films and documentaries are released yearly about the Holocaust and the atrocities the Germans unleashed on the Jews, whereas there is absolutely no documentary or film made to remind our people of the atrocities unleashed on us in the mainstream media. If the Jews deserve to be reminded of such terror waxed on them, we deserve to be reminded of the atrocities unleashed on our parents and cultures too.

The Ibeyis are a product of that generational divide that the Slave Trade caused. So just as Berlin Conference has divided us from our close-by siblings in Africa, slave trade took some far away. We should be happy that they were able to hold on to the culture, language and traditions over the course of over 500 years of detachment.

Furthermore, if the Ibeyis were in Nigeria, Naomi would be called Taiwo or Taiye, while Lisa would be called Kẹhinde. I see she spells it as Kainde. The meaning of ‘taiwo’ and ‘taiye’ is derived from this phrase ‘tọ aiye wo’. And it means, one who has come to ‘peep, or taste the world’. And Kẹhinde is derived from the phrase ‘kẹhin de’, which means ‘one who came after’. The Taiwo is the first to come out, whilst Kẹhinde is the second.

And these names are given to Ibejis because the yorubas believe that when the mother is in labor, the twins do engage in a conversation on who is to visit the world first. And because the Kẹhinde is the eldest in the celestial world, Kẹhinde sends Taiye to the world to go and ‘peep or taste the world’, to see if it’s a good place to be. Kẹhinde is referred to as ‘akẹhinde gbẹgbọn’, the ‘one that came after, and yet, is older’. The folklore goes on to say that when Taiye arrives, and sees that it is well with the world, Taiye calls out by crying to Kẹhinde ‘to come after’. Quite interesting.

The Nigerian yorubas find Twins to be a thing of joy. This can be traced partly to the myth of Ọṣun and Ọya. We will get to that later.

Yorubas are always filled with so much joy, they sing and dance when twins are born. And they even created an oriṣa – a god, for twins, it’s called ‘Oriṣa Ibeji’, and the figurine is called ‘Ere Ibeji’. They use ‘Oriṣa Ibeji’ to ask for favors and blessings. It is common place to hear yorubas say ‘oriṣa ibeji agbeyin o’, which means, ‘the twin-god will favor you o’.

Yoruba families that have twins are enjoined to worship the twins, or better still, celebrate the twins, yearly. The families buy them whatever they want, and in return, the orisha ibeji blesses them. The families must also prepare ewa ibeji. The ewa ibeji is a tiny kind of beans that’s peculiar to the yorubas. In line with the tradition, the ewa ibeji is cooked for everyone to eat. The celebration also witnesses songs like this one:

Epo nbẹ
Ẹwa nbẹ o
Epo nbẹ
Ẹwa nbẹ o

Aya mi oja
O e
Ayami oja
Lati bi ibeji o

Epo nbẹ
Ẹwa nbẹ o

Which means:

I have palm oil
I have beans o
I have palm oil
I have beans o

I am not afraid
O yes
I am not afraid
To give birth to twins

I have palm oil
And I have beans o

I have eaten a lot of this ẹwa ibeji from ibeji celebrations, and this is largely due to the fact that my dad is an Idowu; the third of a pair of twins. His twin siblings are dead now, but he still celebrates them once every year as is custom. So yeah, this ibeji story is personal to me.

Now, let’s go into the details of how Ọṣun’s twins came to be adopted by Ọya.

First of all, let it be known that Ṣọngo was a Twin, and through Ọṣun, he also gave birth to twins. The accounts that Ọṣun threw away her twins because she was being shunned by the community on having twins of her own is not only ridiculous, it is false. Multiple birth was a usual and acceptable occurrence in yoruba land. Only the people of Calabar didn’t consider it normal, as will be seen later in this piece.

Ọṣun was formerly wife to Ọrunmila, before being married to Ṣọngo. Again, what Ṣọngo had with Ọṣun wasn’t an affair, but a proper marriage. He was also married to Ọya.

Now let’s go into details, so that you will be carried along when I’m drawing the allegory parallels later.

Ṣọngo is the god of thunder, lightning, fire, drumming, dancing, male virility, and leadership. He wields the double headed axe as his favorite weapon. He is the yoruba equivalence of the Scandinavian god of thunder; Thor.

He was the fourth Alafin of Ọyọ. He was so much of a fierce warrior, that even his death was a terrifying sight. Yorubas do say: Ẹni ṣọngo toju ẹ wọlẹ ojẹ ba wọn bu ọba koso – any one that witnessed ṣọngo entering the earth (dying), will not partake in abusing ọba koso (ṣọngo).

On ṣọngo’s death, Ọṣun was so devastated, being the favorite of Ṣọngo, that she neglected her twins. Ọṣun, like the Egyptian Isis and later Greek Diana, was the goddess of love, sweetness, beauty, joy, and she is widely loved amongst her followers. She is believed to possess the power to heal the sick, cheer the sad, sing, dance, bring fertility and prosperity.

She is also known as Iyalode- the mother of things outside the home or the mother of fashion and wealth. On dying, she is believed to have turned into the Odo Ọṣun – River Ọṣun, which is in present day Ọṣun State in Nigeria.

Whilst Ọṣun was depressed at the death or disappearance of Ṣọngo, and or even died from the depression, the Ibeji were taken in by Ọya who had desperately wanted children her entire life but was barren and she had had nine stillbirth children. Ọya was former wife of Ogun, before being married to Ṣọngo, and she was barren with Ogun too. So, on the twins being orphans, and she being wife of Ṣọngo, and older wife to Ọṣun, she took them in.

Some historical accounts state that it was Yemọja that took the Ibeji in and raised them. That’s not far fetched considering the fact that Yemọja was Ṣọngo’s mother. Whether it was Ọṣun, Ọya or Yemọja, one thing is certain, the twins were raised by a water goddess, since that’s what the three of them are.

Having had nine stillbirth, when she died and became the River Niger which is referred to as Odo Ọya – River Oya; the river is recorded to have since had nine tributaries in recognition of her nine miscarriages.

She is also the goddess of the wind, owner of the underworld and cemeteries. She is a fierce and powerful female warrior. She rides the winds into battle, often fighting with her machetes side-by-side with her husband, Sango. Ọya raises the armies of the dead as her soldiers and is said to use the tornado as her weapon.

The Ibeji are said to bless anyone who receives them with happiness, joy, abundance and laughter.

So, you see? For those that think it was Mary Mitchell Slessor that ended the killing of twins in Nigeria, let it be told to them that we Yorubas never killed our Twins. We celebrated them so much, we made a god out of them.

It can’t be denied though, that Mary did save lives of children in Calabar, and twins being a large percentage of them considering the fact that the Efik people of Arochukwu and Ekoyong where she settled in the calabar kingdom practiced the act of excommunicating their twins. They throw them in rivers, forests or just bury them alive.

They believed that twins are a result of witchcraft. That only animals give birth to multiple children at once, and only one possessed with sorcery can duplicate such feat. The act of burying infants is still prevalent in communities in India, where female children are buried or intentionally suffocated on being born. And in old Arabian culture, before Islam came to erase such practices, female children were also buried on being born.

LIVING THE MYTH.

Taiwo Naomi Diaz and Kẹhinde Lisa Diaz are a pair of twins, born to Mr. and Mrs. Miguel Aurelio Díaz Zayas, the father is also known by his nickname; Anga Diaz. He is the famous Cuban percussionist who is popular for playing with various Cuban artists including Afro-Cuban All Stars, Buena Vista Social Club, Omar Sosa, Omara Portuondo and Orisha. He recorded and toured with international musicians such as Steve Coleman, Baba Sissoko, Ry Cooder, Pascal Coulon, Malik Mezzadri, Buddy Montgomery and John Patitucci.

Their mother is a Venezuelan-French singer, and dancer, who after her husband died made the twins learn their yoruba culture, and music in depth. Mrs. Diaz also lost the eldest sister of the twins.

The sisters and mother presently live in Paris. Having lived in Lagos, and presently in New York, not yet in Paris though, it seems to me that Lagos might be the home of dreams, and New York, the home of breathing dreams, but Paris is where dreams do beyond just exist or breathe; they flourish, and quickly too.

The stories of Anglique Kidjo, Asha, and the likes are still fresh in our memories.

To start with, the album is one of spiritual melancholy; dark soul, if you like. But one that’s laced with hope and rainbows. It’s the pouring of a very heavy heart. And one can tell that the album wasn’t enough for them to tell it all. The sorrows, and pains they feel as life unfolds itself before them.

Let’s start with Mama Says. Their mother, by my allegory has had two phases. Her Ọṣun phase, and her Ọya phase. From the lyrics and the music video of the song, one can tell how devastated, the mother felt after the demise of her husband. Let’s listen to the Ibeyi sing:

The man is gone
And mama says
She can’t live without him

The man is gone
And mama says
There is no life without him

She has no one
To stop her tears

A man who heals
And calms down her fears

She needs to wake up
In her man’s hands
And to be loved
Just like a child

Huuu huuu

The man is gone
And mama says that
She can’t live without him

The man is gone
And mama says
There is no life without him

How can I tell her
The way I feel
I’m afraid she’d be hurt
And sink
It pisses me off
It drives me mad
That she let her self
Feel so bad

Huuu huuu

You will agree with me that if the Twins of the ancestral Ọṣun were to have written a song on the state of the mother Ọṣun when Ṣọngo died, these would have been the lyrics. She was so depressed, they couldn’t even express themselves to her.

The song ended with some yoruba chant prayers in the yoruba cuban dialect. The only word I got was ‘elegua’, which I know is ‘eledua’ in Nigeria’s yoruba parlance, and it means God.

And it seems to me as if they were saying:

Elegua soothe her, and let her overcome, this state of depression that she’s in.

Another interesting thing about the beat of this song is that we rarely see Taiwo beat on her self when she makes beats. She beats the Cajon and Bata well, while Kẹhinde plays the Piano. I digress. The only times she does beat on herself are times that the songs are really personal to them, and this song wasn’t an exception. She’d beat on her self through out the song to deliver the head swirling depth we love so much.

The song did not only tell of the mother’s pains and agony, but it also hinted their pains too, and in Think Of You, they let a bit out. Almost like they didn’t want to say much, but communicated fully with melodious emotions.

Their father, being a percussionist, can be said to be Ṣọngo. Just like Ṣọngo, he loved to dance, and his leadership skills was impeccable just like Ṣọngo’s. He was also eloquent, and that’s parallel for Ṣọngo emitting fire from his mouth. All in all, he was Ṣọngo, the husband of Ọṣun.

The Ibeyi started with the sonorous moyuba Ọṣun panegyrics, which I think in a way, is a prayer to Ọṣun, that she should bless his spirit, and make his sojourn in the underworld easy. They went further to state that:

We hear laughter
And we think of you
We walk on rhythm
And we think of you
Feeling our union
And we think of you
Receive your spirit
And we think of you

Let’s remember
With rhythm our
Loved ones that are gone

You live through us
Baba, we sing for you

And they ended with a Jazz-feel sound, that sounded like music their father must have made when alive. And another noticeable thing was a male’s voice that was heard at the beginning and end of the song. I think the male’s voice was their father.

Having called Ọṣun to make his sojourn easy there, they also called on Ọṣun in their debut single; River.

Come to river
I will come to river
I will come to river

Why the use of the verb ‘come’, and not ‘go’? And why ‘river’, and not ‘the river’? What the deliberate usage of those words suggest is that what they want to reach is with them in their abode, not something far away. And I dare say; their mother. She is the river, and river here refers to Ọṣun.

They pleaded with her despite her sorry state, after the demise of Ṣọngo to still help them out to wash their soul, pains and all.

Come to river
Wash my soul
I will come to river
Wash my soul
I will come to river
wash my soul again

Carry away my dead limbs
And let me baptize my soul
With the help of your waters
Sink my pains and my complains
Let the river take them
River, drown them

My ego
And my blame
Let me baptize my soul
With the help of your water

Those all means are so ashamed or I think the more accurate words of this line is ‘those with me that are so ashamed’

Let the river take them
River, drown them

And in the next stanza, they used ‘dead leaves’, as against ‘dead limbs’ used earlier – Carry away my dead leaves

As it’s their usual practice to add yoruba panegyrics, they called on Ọṣun at the end, in an effort to make her put a seal on their prayers.

Wamile Ọṣun, Ọṣun de de a la wede
O wemile Ọṣun, molo beledu ya luhte mo yewe deyo

To me, those chants sounds like they were also requesting that Ọṣun baptize them, as they’d earlier prayed for. Generally, I love the reggae feel of the song. And the music video was apt. It further made it clear how they’d wanted Ọṣun to help them eradicate their fears; by drowning them with firm fists clutched to the necks of the adversities, with no respite.

After all the prayers and plea, it is believed that Ọṣun, their mother, eventually listened to them. I hear she’s the one that manages them. It was at this recovery state that she metamorphosized into Ọya. How? You remember I wrote that Ọya lost nine of her infants.

Well, our Ọṣun lost her daughter, who like the cat, had nine lives. The daughter was so full of life, and love, and gave life all she had. It seems to me that that’s the person they sang Yanira for. In their praise songs to her, they said:

All my dreams lead to you
Queen of my thoughts
Yani

All my dreams lead to you
Queen of my thoughts
Yani

With this, one can tell how much of an influence she was to the Ibeji. They, and their mum, loved her, and they miss her same way, Ọya missed her nine infants. They went further to state that:

I still feel you in my skin
Yani

Why did fate make you go
We will meet in heaven
Meet in heaven
Yanira! 4x

We will meet in heaven
Meet in heaven
We will meet in heaven
Meet in heaven
We will meet in heaven
Meet in heaven
We will meet in heaven
Meet in heaven
Yanira 4x

But they took solace on a union in heaven, when they also get to heaven. Ọya, having suffered these casualties, has built enough mental courage, and strength to take care of the twins, just as in the myth.

Ọya, in this song, sounds like ‘oya’, which means, ‘let’s go’, and ‘higher’. Both varying pronunciation, if used, still wouldn’t change the message of the song. Which is more of a romantic plea to Ọya to take them to ‘their roots’.

I wrote ‘their roots’ because of the root depiction in the music video. Another interesting thing one sees in the music video of Ọya is how it started with a white space in the midst of dark trees, and then changed to what seems like the ‘black hole’. And the black hole signifying the somewhat beginning and entirety of the universe.

So the ‘take me’, can also be construed to mean that Ọya should take them to see the world, the entire universe whilst they sit on their roots, albeit roots from a tree that has been uprooted from its source or origin. That will depict their yoruba cuban heritage that was uprooted from their African ancestral origin.

And the white and black nature of the music video signifies their altruist search for the truth in and of this world, and their heritage.

In their words:

Even if I feel the sun
On my skin
Everyday

If I don’t feel you

Even if I see
The most beautiful things
Up in the sky

If I don’t see you
Take me, Ọya (x4)

Even if my hand’s
Skin catch the wind,
Catch the cloud

If I don’t see you

Even if I feel the sun
On my skin
Everyday

If I don’t feel you

Take me Ọya (x4)

Toi, le Soleil, l’Uni, toi qui parles à mon Coeur
Toi, le Soleil, l’Uni, mais qui pars sans moi
Toi qui pars sans moi

Take me Oya (x4)

The french above means –

You the sun, the universe, you that speaks to my heart
You the sun, the universe but who leaves without me.
You who leaves without me.

In conclusion, the Ibeyi album is a profound piece. The way my turntable turns to its lyrics is refreshing, and darkly calming. Taiwo reminds one of Babatunde Olatunji in Drums of Passion, while Kẹhinde gives us the Nina Simone vibe. I, with this piece, wholeheartedly recommend their album to my friends in Nigeria, America and the world at large. Odigba!

— @princeoreshade

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9 thoughts on “THE IBEYI ALBUM: FACTS, MYTH, LYRICS, AND ALLEGORY – @ibeyiofficial

  1. The expository on the Yoruba conception of Twins was quite interesting I must say. Yoruba myth and folklore is something I enjoy as often as the opportunity presents itself. Good work sir.

    Thanks for making such resourceful materials for literary and oral traditional study available on the Internet. I’ve learned a thing or three today. Good morning.

    Liked by 1 person

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