Ibeyi means twins in Yoruba and is the name of a twin sister band who trace their roots to Nigeria and Benin through their father, the late great Cuban percussionist who played with Irakere and was best known for work with the Buena Vista Social Club. The Diaz twins, Naomi and Lisa-Kainde, were born in Paris and spent some formative years in Cuba. They recently launched their music careers with their self-titled debut album. I was fortunate enough to catch their act in Boston, the second to last stop on their first world tour. A mix of Afro-Cuban fused pop, European electronica and a unique blend all their own, Ibeyi brought down the house last night.
The house where the twins performed happened to be the Royale in Boston, a tiny club that seats or stands less than 1,000 people in the heart of Boston’s Theater District. Ibeyi sports a sparse stage setup included an Akai synthesizer atop a Roland 700 digital piano for keyboardist Noami and an electronic drum machine, a cajon, a sort of drum box that is sat on and played, and a set of bata drums for percussionist Lisa-Kainde. A video screen hung in the background to project abstract black and white videos of urban scenes to accompany each song.
There was a spacious bar in the back, a small dance floor in the middle in front of the stage where most of the crowd packed and balcony seating all around for those who preferred to chill in the distance. The venue did not appear to be at maximum capacity, but the crowd, mostly Gen. X’ers and Millennials, was nonetheless enthusiastic and welcoming. I attended with my daughter, a recent college graduate, who is a big fan of Ibeyi. I was one of the oldest in the crowd, no doubt. One funny aside, as the concert was held in the Theatre Distict, and we were running a little late getting there, we hurriedly walked up to get in line with a group of patrons who looked much older than we would have expected for an Ibeyi concert. I asked the ticket taker what band was playing and to my amusement, he said “Kraftwerk”. We were at the wrong theater and I could not help but laugh at the thought of Mike Meyer’s SNL “Sprockets” routine. Fortunately, Ibeyi was playing right across the street and we got there just a few minutes before they walked on stage. And even though I had never heard Ibeyi’s music before, I liked their sound instantly, something I could never say about Kraftwerk.
It is hard to describe Ibeyi’s music and I am probably not doing them justice, but I can say that they harmonized, vocalized, memorialized with tributes to their late sister and father, and mesmerized with captivating beats, melodies and rhythms. It was the kind of music that makes you move and sway but also takes you by surprise, especially the percussion work. The tunes were emotional, yet upbeat with a spirit that brought smiles to all in the crowd. It was a night I won’t soon forget. And I am betting that as their sound reaches more ears, their popularity will increase. I predict stardom in the twins’ future!
Here’s their setlist from the Boston concert that I found on setlist.fm. Do yourself a favor and go have a listen!