French-Cuban twins Ibeyi sing as if connected by a magical current

A review by Will Pritchard for London’s Telegraph.

Lisa-Kaindé and Naomi Diaz stunned the crowd at Koko with their mystical, multi-lingual art-pop and extraordinary chemistry

It’s not unusual for musicians who play together night after night to develop an innate sense of communication, like the invisible electric crackle of a shoal of fish. But when Lisa-Kaindé and Naomi Diaz hit a groove, it goes beyond that. As Ibeyi, the pair frequently finish each other’s thoughts in interviews; on stage, as they were on Monday under KOKO’s decorative theatre arch, they complete each other’s every move. Their chemistry is nothing short of extraordinary.

Since signing with XL Recordings (once home to Adele) in 2013, the French-Cuban sister duo have quietly compiled a catalogue as idiosyncratic as it is alluring. It’s art-pop that isn’t too pretentious to say I love you. They sing – and, boy, do they sing: all the notes you know, and then the ones in-between, usually at the same time – in French, English, Yoruba, and Spanish, alongside a globe-sprawling ensemble of collaborators and ancestors. Their sonic palette is a dazzling mélange of salsa, samba, hip-hop, R&B, and alternative pop; their lyrics are similarly syncretic. 

Spell 31, their most recent album, takes its name from an incantation dug out from The Egyptian Book of the Dead and leans full-hearted into the mystical elements that had shimmered around the fringes of 2017’s Ash and the duo’s self-titled 2015 debut. Songs traverse family and femininity, race and the deep roots and shared experiences of ancestry. These throughlines mesh and meld across their three albums to date in rhythmic callbacks and harmonies that span the years – and they make even more sense when played and heard together.

Early on in the gig, a slightly timid acapella of the pearlescent Lavender & Red Roses was coaxed from the stiff but willing crowd. This was a November night in need of some warming. But, with the potent call-to-arms of Deathless, the room was soon writhing and bellowing the defiant chorus – written by Lisa-Kaindé in response to being harassed in the street at age 16 – on command. “We don’t want cute, we want rage,” she urged, pushing a fist in the air and calling in another group chant of the hook: “We are deathless.” Ecstatic catharsis flooded the room.

Lisa-Kaindé and Naomi are twins (their name, Ibeyi, means just that in Yoruba), but they’re far from identical. Lisa-Kaindé appeared a mop of curls, swirling around her keyboard in a crop top, while Naomi wore tight plaits atop a coutured jacket, steely and precise over her cajón, slapping her chest and thighs and sending popping clicks out from her fingers. While Lisa-Kaindé monologued to the audience, brimming with chest-clutching emotion, Naomi opted to pump them with hand gestures (“I love dancing, but I hate talking,” she said). 

Their vocal styles too – Lisa-Kaindé’s swooning R&B tickle to Naomi’s forceful, throaty husk – are poles apart, tied in and punctuated by a staccato “hey!” or “ho!”. The magic is in how it all fits together. Never was this more tangible last night than when the two were alone on stage and the chatty Camden crowd succumbed to a total hush. With Ash, an eggshell duet of piano and Naomi’s naked vocals, it was if the whole world had stopped turning, so as not to disturb the moment.

The encore was a bare bones rendition of Tears Are Our Medicine, sung from spotlit bar stools, stunning the crowd to silence one last time. The pair departed, inviting fans to come and hang out by the tour bus, and a throng soon gathered around the gleaming white vehicle – a double-decker bearing its more-than-apt branding in capital letters: STARSTRUCK. London had indeed been struck with awe.

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