Ibeyi’s reputation seems to have a habit of preceding itself on account of some key, critic-friendly factors. It’s typically of interest that their father was an esteemed percussionist with a number of Cuban acts, notably Buena Vista Social Club, though they have noted that they declined his offers of music lessons. Their heritage, too – that they centre elements of both Cuban and Yoruban culture in the music, the two being versed in French, Spanish, Yoruba and English. Perhaps also of surprise has been their musical adeptness from a young age, making waves at 19 and still only 22 at the release of their second record (taking a rough leaf out of Adele’s release strategy, you might think, what with both acts signed to XL Recordings). And who would not find fascination in twins who write and perform together? I worry that perhaps I’m spoiled by all this prior information, but of course music sits resolutely in its context; that said, I can’t say these facts haven’t piqued my interest either.

I am perched on the balcony of Band On The Wall, seeing all from a generously angled vantage point. I’ve never seen the duo perform before, and have also oddly never experienced a gig here from on high, unsure as to whether this is the prime choice of location. Yet soon after seating myself all fades to black and the decision is made for me. With haunting harmony the two enter in crimson jumpsuits, weaving their voices whilst facing one another. The French word for twins, ‘jumelles’, is a homonym for both ‘binoculars’ and ‘opera glasses’. Apt: as I peer from above, I’m able to see the two women in a cowboy shot, a few heads preventing a full view. The venue’s upper deck provides a different experience to that of a bigger venue like the Apollo or the Arena, the smallness of the room dedicated to intimacy whether you remain downstairs or venture up top. Naomi opens the set playing metal drums. Lisa-Kaindé speaks, to tell us that track ‘I Wanna Be Like You’ is about her sister and how she wishes, despite their twinness, that she could be more like Naomi, to have her voice and her strength. She begins by playing keys, and gestures towards a sitting sister, directing the song towards her until the track meets a clipped end.

The stage has the feel of a studio session, the act centred and well upfront. From this position the two arise and stand right before the audience, in closeness with us, before bifurcating to either side of the stage in darkness. Lisa-Kaindé brings in Badalamenti-style keys with cyan blue lights projecting from behind. She describes a song inspired by feelings sprung on by the president’s chilling pussy-grabbing comments (I use this adjective in spite of the coarseness, only to continue the showcasing of Trump’s self-condoned language). Shortly after, the following dialogue:

Naomi: ‘Ahhh I’m fucking up!’
Man behind me: ‘That’s what happens when politics gets involved’

And so American politics – dominating our, and clearly their minds – takes to the fore, even if the twins have grown up and lived outside of the US (in Havana and Paris). The stage is red-bathed as Michelle Obama’s comments on women make up the sampled background of ‘No Man Is Big Enough For My Arms’, the lights flashing white as the phrase “no man!” is shouted. Lisa-Kaindé uses drums with a slim stick, unlike much of Naomi’s percussion-playing thus far, which has relied on the use of her palms. Women’s hands creating reverberations in a manner of ways: soft-key strokes, strikes with bare hands or intermediary tools.

In spite of the percussive drive throughout the music, a clear focal point remains the layered hums that mesh together and play intricately. It’s a trick that prevents repetition from falling into monotony and instead creates enthralling chant. There’s two sets of keys on lengthier track ‘Transmission/Michaelion’, where we’re ushered to sing along. The mystique from some of their music videos is cracked, as the two of them – Lisa-Kaindé in particular – are chatty, something you can see in some of their interviews. If she is cast as the more introspective and calm of the two, she is undeniably excited in her conversation (and note, she is keen on conversation, not monologue). The dimensions of the tracks bounce from the tightly knotted vocals to the comfort of the keys and the more obvious vibrations of the beats. As the lights are thrust out in various directions, it feels as though the music is batted from the sides of the room creating invisible polygonic shapes. ‘Away Away’ is also used to get the crowd singing back at them, with the echo punctuating the key stabs. They flit between different stage helms and make a point of linking with the audience at the front over and over.


The vocal reverb and harmony alone is dramatically compelling and at moments has a choral church quality. But at other times they jump and shake, smiling, and in doing so are effusive and pulsing with the sounds. Though their father is often attributed to their musical wisdom, it’s worth noting that their French-Venezuelan mother Maya Dagnino is a singer in her own right. A highlight is the act singing a capella, where they demonstrate impressively their ear for melody. They are good at triggering emotions, as with their Jay Electronica cover ‘Better In Tune With The Infinite’ – my plus one informs me that the last time this was played on stage before him, he teared up. By contrast, ‘Deathless’ is the closest it comes to protest, the fists-clenched-upwards anthem that the crowd responds to in full voice. Then, ‘Me Voy’, a tune ostensibly for dancing; it is the first track they have produced in Spanish. Later in an interview I infer that Spanish is the language used when they’re angry, but this track is sensual and rhythmic.

It is fair (and pleasing) to say that the artists are full of vigour all night, often reverting into a sidestep bounce as though they’re about to take a penalty shootout. The variety of beat-heavy and beat-lite tracks throughout is well thought out and makes for natural feeling oscillation between the drum-studded pieces that move the body, and the vocal-only matrimony that stills the room. At the pre-emptive close they move behind shutters which are closed in a rapid swipe to show an eye from each twin, images taken from the album artwork. Onto the encore, where ‘Waves’ shows the husk in Naomi’s voice when her voice is heard alone, and the highly anticipated ‘River’ proves an absolute shaker.

Though they are pitted as complimenting sides of a musical coin – Lisa-Kaindé softer and melodic, Naomi the thunderous timekeeper – the binary seems a tad unnecessary. When viewed live, their selective balance of melody and rhythm coalesces, relying on a small number of instruments to provide an emotion-filled oneness that doesn’t need to be bisected to be enjoyed or understood.

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Hannah Ross

Hummer and strummer with Kurt Vile hair. Likes neo-soul, reverb, and most things put out by Beggars. Will review for money and/or free tickets + exciting new music.