Ibeyi are a duo that has been greatly influenced by their upbringing as the twin daughters of a French, Venezuelan mother and Cuban father. They recently came out with their sophomore album Ash, which was more of a deliberate statement about racism and sexism in our world today than their self-titled debut, which was appropriately more of a statement about who they were as people and artists. I greatly anticipated seeing them live and hearing Lisa-Kaindé’s soprano and Naomi’s mezzo-soprano voices merge into these beautiful harmonies and melodies.
The support act was a Chicago-based R&B singer, called theMIND. He sang with a single guitarist and an animated video on a loop behind them on a projected. The visuals were interesting the first couple times it looped, but ended up not adding much to his performance. He had a hard time getting the crowd engaged, but toward the end of his set, the crowd started to open up to him. He has a solid voice, but it was unnecessarily and overly auto-tuned. It was a stark contrast to what I was expecting from Ibeyi.
The crowd was ready to see Ibeyi when the first notes of the choral backing of “I Carried This for Years” played. Lisa-Kaindé and Naomi appeared behind open blinds in striking blue and red jumpsuits, respectively. They continued with another track from their new record, “I Wanna Be Like You,” a song that Lisa-Kaindé wrote about her sister. The two of them clearly have a chemistry that is only seen in people who have spent their entire lives together, but they aren’t the same. As their jumpsuits suggest, they have distinct roles as musicians and as performers.
They followed up with Away Away, which was the only single they released for this album, and Numb, which was a very emotional song. One of the most powerful songs on the album and powerful moments of the show was Lisa-Kaindré’s introduction to “No Man Is Big Enough for My Arms,” which features clips from Michelle Obama’s speech to the Democratic National Convention in 2016. In this speech, she speaks about how it is important to value the women and girls in our society and to turn away from Trump’s hateful language and treatment of women.
They went back to their first album to play “Mama Says.” It was just Lisa-Kaindé’s piano and voice with her sister’s percussion, which was just slapping her knees and snapping. This basic backdrop for Lisa-Kaindé’s voice was simply beautiful. This, I thought, would be the highlight of the concert, but then they played “Transmission/Michaelion.” Another slower piece, it really highlighted both of their voices, but I really enjoyed the focus on Naomi’s voice because this is one of the few songs she took center stage.
The picked up the pace again with “When Will I Learn” and brought the crowd into “I’m On My Way,” and we all sang the lyrics of the chorus. “Oya” slowed the pace down again focusing again on the percussion and vocals, including a chant, which finishes the song. It is one of the songs that most clearly nods to their Afro-Cuban roots. “Valé” was the next to take the spot on my favorite piece of the night, again because of the slow pace, but this time because of the focus on Lisa-Kaindé’s voice. The piano can get lost in some of their tracks, but in their performance of Valé the beauty of the composition and Lisa-Kaindé’s talent as a pianist is abundantly clear.
With “Exhibit Diaz” they again brought the crowd into the song, having us sing the backup for the chorus. Their style of music is built from a history of call and response, so it made those moments of the concert feel very natural and made the concert a very memorable experience. They then continued with “Deathless,” which recounts the story of Lisa-Kaindé being racially profiled by a French policeman, but its message is one of strength to any marginalized person. It, just like “No Man Is Big Enough for My Arms,” was even more powerful in person because they had the crowd yell out the chorus of “Whatever happens, whatever happens, we are deathless.”
“Me Voy” has a classic, sensual Caribbean beat. The two of them were at center stage, where they had a sort of dance battle. The fun they were having on stage with each other was infectious, making this one of the most fun songs of the concert. They closed their show with the title track of their album “Ash.” Throughout the show, these set pieces that resembled blinds were moved around the stage. Sometimes the blinds were open, and sometimes closed, showing a piece of a bigger image. At the end of “Ash,” the blinds were pushed together, and they were all shut, leaving the image of the eyes from the Ash album cover.
Of course, the crowd hadn’t had enough of this duo, so we stomped are feet, demanding an encore. The twins came back out with “Waves,” and they finished with their most famous song “River,” where they again utilized a call and response. They sang “Come to your river,” and we responded, “Wash my soul.” It was a fun, interactive way to finish a show with so many powerful emotions.
These twins are natural born performers, and only two people who have grown up together can have the intuitive style that they have. When they could feel that the crowd was hooked, it took only a glance to communicate the idea that they would continue the call and response, even after the song had ended. Both have amazing voices that mix together, so beautifully, especially on the slower songs, which take the focus off of the percussion and put it on the voices and piano. Lisa-Kaindé is an extraordinarily gifted pianist, and her sister is equally talented on the cajón and batá drum. I cannot wait to see the next record they release and will count down the days until I can see them live again.
Review – Rhodes Ford
Photos – Arianne Bergeron