April 1, 2015
Masonic Lodge at Hollywood Forever
Ibeyi is a French-Cuban duo made up of 20-year-old twins Naomi and Lisa-Kainde Diaz. To understand the context of their music, we first need a glossary, and some history. Ibeyi (pronounced “ee-bey-ee”) means “twins” in Yoruba.
Originally from Nigeria, the Yoruba people were brought to Cuba during the slave trade, and had lasting impact on Cuban culture, language and religion. It was from this culture that the twins' father, Buena Vista Social Club percussionist Anga Diaz, drew his Afro-Cuban beats and rhythms — a gift that he evidently passed on to his beautiful daughters, even though he passed away when they were 11 years old.
But last night's performance at the Masonic Lodge was less a history lesson than an immersion; it was passionate, and pure and gripping in all ways you never really expect music to be anymore.
Naomi and Lisa-Kainde, on tour to support their eponymous debut, say that their songs are a tribute to their family and culture. It mixes Latin jazz, hip-hop, electronica, African music and jazz into a beautiful, ethereal-yet-earthy sound — made for dancing, singing and blasting full-on from your speakers.
From the moment the twins, distinguishable from each other by their hair (Naomi in Princess Leia buns and Lisa sporting a flowy afro) walked on stage, there was a magical energy in the air. Dressed in all black,Lisa-Kainde played the keyboard while Naomi (adorned with nothing but prayer beads) manned the cahon and other percussion instruments. Together, their voices soared and lifted, harmonies and melodies entwining to create a fully whole sound. Despite the fact that their only accompaniment was percussion, keyboards and synths, the music did not feel sparse at all. In fact, it was so beautiful I cried a few times during their set, notably during “Yanira,” a song dedicated to their older sister who recently passed away, and “Oya,” a song about the goddess of the wind in Yoruban mythology.
It makes sense that their performance, even though they are only 20 and performing their debut, are so tight: siblings make the best bandmates, after all, because they've probably been singing together all their lives. And everything they played — from the lonesome “Weatherman” to the dance-y version of “River” was executed in perfect sync. Someone called the twins musical goddesses, and it was clear that everyone in the audience was captivated. It wasn't just that Ibeyi made beautiful music; they were also very much in the now — breaking out the hip-hop beats, dancing and having fun with the crowd.
Naomi had a very grounded connection to the beats, using her body for percussion during the lonesome “Mama Says” and clapping and hyping up the crowd during the faster songs. The most refreshing part of the show was watching the two women perform so passionately, without affectation: no teddybears or pyrotechnics needed … just a pure love of music.Ibeyi's songs may be very personal — about loss, love, and family — but last night, it drew everyone in and created a sound the whole world can fall in love with.
Critic's bias: My dad raised me on the Buena Vista Social Club so Ibeyi feels like family to me.
Overheard: “They have a really cool French-Cuban vibe …” And what kind of vibe is that, exactly?
The crowd: A lot of excited and inspired young women.
Random notebook dump: Not sure how opening act Flo Morrissey got this gig, but that was the most painful set I've had to endure in years. She kept making mistakes, then stopped and started over on THREE DIFFERENT SONGS — once while she was already in the middle of the song! Didn't you ever have piano recital in fourth grade, Flo? The first rule you learn: If you mess up, pretend it didn't happen and just keep playing.