Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit

Ibeyi pitch themselves between the spiritual and provocative in London

14 May 2015, 10:49 | Written by Sam Warner

Ibeyi have become quite the cult phenomenon. The French-Cuban twin sisters’ unique sound blends modern beats and looping with the ancient Nigerian Yoruba dialect (‘ibeyi’ is Yoruba for ‘twins’), as well as Spanish and English. Their self-titled debut, released earlier this year, has garnered them critical acclaim and a loyal following. Yet Islington Assembly Hall, the venue for a sold-out London stop tonight (12th May), is a far cry away from their spiritual grounding.

The siblings, Lisa-Kaindé Díaz and Naomi Díaz run on stage like excited schoolgirls – though at 20, they’re not far off. Their father played with Buena Vista Social Club, and on stage you can sense these genes, the sisters Díaz both oozing musical dexterity and chemistry. Opening Acapella with “Eleggua (Intro)”, the bright lights blare as they harmonise into mics at the front of the stage.

Lisa-Kaindé takes to a piano as Naomi adds cajón – a sitting box drum – on “Ghosts”. They tell the gathered crowd that the project started with “Mama Says”, dedicating the haunting ballad to their mother. It reeks of subtle emotion, Naomi adding chest thumping to her musical prowess alongside her drum. It marks out two distinct personalities, Lisa-Kaindé: the encapsulating emotion, Naomi: the sharp edge, audience attention equally divided between the two.

The sisters then take up roles in another Acapella interlude, Naomi the ‘daughter of thunder’ and Lisa-Kaindé the ‘daughter of sea’, showcasing showmanship as well as their standing as individuals. “I’m On My Way” invites the audience to participate, repeating the refrain over and over again in an uplifting respite from the melancholy that characterises most of their catalogue. “River” is a standout moment – arguably the duo’s most recognisable tune – almost a Yoruba-Cuban-French heir to “Take Me To The River”, if you will, a song simultaneously spiritual and provocative.

Immersing the audience ever more is “Oya”, with Lisa-Kaindé and Naomi’s looped harmonies adding layers and layers of euphoria, swirling around the small space like an occult ceremony. Ibeyi live is a truly spiritual experience, and while on record they prove an intriguing delight, in the live arena they amplify it tenfold, shaking the room with their inventive beats and holding the audience’s attention for the duration of the show; a gig that doesn’t sag for a second is rare thing. A cover of Jay Electronica’s “Better In Tune With The Infinite” gives the sisters both a moment to breathe and to prove chops beyond the duo’s own sound; it is a perfect choice and blends into the setlist seamlessly.

By the end of the evening the Díaz siblings don’t want to leave the stage. After their last song they manage to last about 20 seconds backstage before darting back to the front, leading the crowd in an Acapella refrain of “River”. Ibeyi are truly an intriguing prospect for music, a fresh sound that is fully realised on just one album and a musical chemistry that tantalises an exciting future ahead. You can only see the duo’s following grow bigger, so catch them this summer whenever you can.

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