Ibeyi’s “Deathless” and the Immortality of the Oppressed

by Dom Jones

A little less than a week ago, Cuban duo Ibeyi released a single from their upcoming album “Ash” entitled “Deathless.” The imagery of the video is compelling and confounding at the same time. Take a look:

In an interview with NPR, Lisa Kaindé Diaz writes that she composed the song after being wrongfully arrested by French police at the young age of 16 years old. “I was writing Deathless as an anthem for everybody! For every minority. For everybody that feels that they are nothing, that feels small, that feels not cared about and I want them to listen to our song and for three minutes feel large, powerful, deathless. I have a huge amount of respect for people who fought for, what I think, are my rights today and if we all sing together ‘We are deathless,’ they will be living through us into a better world.”

The second verse of the song really illuminates the message that she is trying to get across:

(He said, he said)
You’re not clean
You might deal
All the same with that skin
(She was, she was)
Final looks
With her books
Left for dead in the streets

Then, launching back into the hook, which repeats, “Whatever happens, whatever happens, we are deathless, we are deathless.” Ibeyi’s music has always had a tribal feel, mixing their Cuban roots with an indigenous sound and a very simplistic approach. Their first album (self-titled) was a remarkable achievement paying homage to their lineage and vacillating back and forth between English and Yoruba without sounding dated and without alienating the user. Their sound on “Deathless” and the preceding single “Away, Away” both sound like the next iteration of what we heard on the first album, incorporating more contemporary production techniques without getting too far away from the sound that makes them unique. Kamasi Washington’s feature on this song makes sense for the sonic landscape being created, and though you never see him in the video, you definitely feel his contribution in the music.

The content of the song is in the mind of a Fred Hampton quote, which says, “You can jail a revolutionary, but you can’t jail a revolution.” When Lisa talked about writing this song for minorities who feel small and uncared for, she’s getting at an intersectionality of oppression that Fred Hampton helped establish alliances around before his untimely murder. Even in the song, you can hear people chanting “we are deathless” underneath the singing. This is a freedom song, a liberation chant, not unlike Marley’s “Get Up, Stand Up” or Stevie’s “Higher Ground” or Latifah’s “U.N.I.T.Y.” All of these songs ask oppressed groups who have been separated by gender, race, religion, etc. to come together and fight for everyone’s liberation. When Ibeyi sings, “Whatever happens…” it’s as though they know that things are getting worse before they’ll get better, but that just as an end is also a beginning, a death is also a birth. This is depicted clearly and repeatedly in their video, where you see each sister giving birth to the other over and over again. It’s a reminder to all of us that when things feel as though they can’t improve, each day is a new birth (and opportunity) to make our world what it could and should be for everyone.


About the Author

Dom Jones is a dual major in Music Business and Songwriting, and her work has been published in Huffington Post, Teen Vogue, Blavity and Ebony.com. She released her debut album, Wingspan, in 2014 and her follow up EP, Blackbird in 2016. Find out more about her at iamdomjones.com