Review: Ibeyi @ Koko (London, 3rd November 2015)

Packed to the rafters with people vying for any sort of view, Koko played host to the French-Cuban duo Ibeyi for this eagerly anticipated North London gig. Twins Lisa-Kaindé Diaz and Naomi Diaz performed songs from their eponymous album, released earlier this year. Ibeyi is a beautifully crafted record but this was a bit more than just reproducing the album live. The music seemed fresh and spontaneous, with the added twist of some rather hypnotic visual projections.

Born and raised in Paris, the sisters have some strong musical genes. Their mother (also their manager) is a singer and their father was the highly respected Cuban percussionist, Anga Diaz, who played with Irakere and Buena Vista Social Club, amongst others. They paid homage to him with the track Think Of You, as well as to their elder sister who died in 2013, with the song Yanira.

Ibeyi’s music is very hard to label – there’s jazz, folk, electronica, dub, pop, soul and hip-hop, all drenched in exquisite vocal harmonies with an electronica hue. Their sound is clean, underplayed and without unnecessary frills. The end result has an elegant simplicity, particularly as heard in Stranger/Lover.

Despite feeling somewhat under the weather Lisa was resolved to doing the gig, and her languid style on the keyboard was complemented throughout by Naomi’s percussion, her hands and arms dancing over the Bata drum. They sang in both English and Yoruba, a language from West Africa, which was spoken by their ancestors. In the Yoruba language, Ibeyi translates as ‘twins’. Indeed, the tribe from which they descend has the highest rate of twins in the world. Twins occupy a very important place within Yoruba culture and this connection, along with sisterhood and their musicianship was evident throughout the performance. They were both relaxed and assured and at one point, when a vocal intro went slightly awry, the sisters had no trouble stopping and starting the song again.

There was a similarity to the songs, each played at a similar tempo, but the enthusiastic crowd lapped it up nevertheless. During Ibeyi’s biggest hit so far, River, they responede to the girls’ “come to your river” with the next line, “wash my soul!” A cleansing energy swept through the room. Every part of this show seemed to be understated, and one had to keep reminding oneself that there were only two people on stage. Their sound was augmented by a sampler and loop station. The drum machine had a retro feel, harking back to 1980s bands such as Tears For Fears, but it really works.

After thanking everybody they could, Ibeyi finished the night with another beautiful piece of well crafted acapella, and with the audience clapping along to another rendition of River. Their music is current, it’s relevant and it’s a breath of fresh air. There are access points for everyone. One can’t help but wonder what their next move might be. A venture into something more up-tempo would be stunning – here’s hoping.

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