The range and subtlety of their voices are such that the minimal beats underpinning their compositions almost feel like an afterthought.
As The Louisiana has yet to fill up, it is still quiet enough to be able to hear garbled snippets of conversation and mobile phones going off in the background, all of which Ala.ni, the London-based singer-songwriter who is the evening’s supporting act, takes in her stride, appearing entirely at ease and playful with the audience. Accompanied by guitar and violin, she has a sumptuous, decidedly old-school vocal style, reminiscent of 1950s jazz singers. Her preference for love longs is off-set by her penultimate number, appropriately preceded by a massive growl of feedback, which she describes as ‘a happy song about death’, adding, ‘we all do it, right? But hopefully not all together!’
By the time 9pm comes around, the crowd has swelled to beyond capacity, with some late arrivals stuck in the doorway, and the rest of us rooted to the spot due to lack of space for most of the evening. It is possible that the recent wave of media interest in Ibeyi – the undeniably photogenic twins have featured in several publications and fashion magazines over recent weeks – has spurred a last-minute run on tickets. Their mother, who is also their manager, can be seen lurking by the entrance, looking a little worried. But she really needn’t be: from the moment Naomi and Lisa-Kaindé let forth their first a capella, it is clear that they already have the audience enthralled.
The range and subtlety of their voices are such that the minimal beats that underpin their compositions, played mostly on the cajón, and using samples from an Akai MPC, almost feel like an afterthought. But in fact they are expertly manipulated, creating a bridge between the evocative vocal harmonies, which are both haunting and celebratory, and a more commercially-aware sensibility influenced by hip hop and electronica. Their track ‘River’, with it’s simple kick/clap rhythm and stuttering piano line, goes down particularly well.
While the duo sing primarily in English, rather than their native Spanish or French, it is the tracks sung in Yoruba, a Nigerian language that features prominently in the Afro-Cuban Santería religion, which distinguishes their performance. Mid-way through the set, the Orishas (deities who inhabit the cosmology of Santería) Changó and Yemayá are evoked, an indication of the sisters’ interest in exploring the ancestral and spiritual link to their Cuban homeland, and providing a nod to their occasionally conflicting energies, which seem to seem to find resolution through song.
Furthermore, the 20 year-olds have the maturity to be able to explore some traumatic emotions. The song ‘Yanira’, for instance, deals with the death of their older sister. Their father, renowned Cuban percussionist Miguel ‘Anga’ Diaz, died when the the sisters were only 11. There is a sense, therefore, that in writing and performing music, the twins are laying to rest some of the pain that has beset their family. Their set concludes with a further Yoruba song, with Lisa heading through the rapt crowd holding a candle, the palpable sense reverberating through the audience that they have witnessed the emergence of a formidable talent.
Check out ‘River’ right here: