Harmonies and Heart-to-Hearts: Ibeyi at Leith Theatre

Ibeyi at Leith Theatre 18th August. Image Jassy Earl
Ibeyi at Leith Theatre 18th August. Image © Jassy Earl


From: 18 Aug 2022

Leith Theatre
28-30 Ferry Road
Edinburgh & the Lothians

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Interrupting an earth-shattering rendition of their song Deathless, Ibeyi take a moment to address the audience. ‘They tell me this town was built on volcanoes, so you guys know all about fire,’ Lisa-Kaindé Diaz quips, inviting us to ‘spit fire’ along with her and her sister Naomi for one final incendiary chorus. 

Right from the start of their magnificent set, the Diaz twins bring fire to Leith Theatre. Following an impressive support slot from soulful Glasgow singer Cara Rose, the duo enter to cacophonous drums and flashes of lightning projected onto the wall behind them. With a wealth of new material to showcase from their third studio album Spell 31, released in May of this year, they begin with the incandescent vocals and grimy electronics of imposing lead single Made of Gold. 

Image © Jassy Earl
Image © Jassy Earl

Taking their name from the Yoruba word for twins, Ibeyi have been beguiling listeners with their resplendent harmonies and soaring melodies since their 2015 self-titled debut, released when they were just 20. Inspired by their father, the acclaimed Cuban percussionist Anga Díaz, the French/Cuban/Venezuelan duo combine traditional Cuban instrumentation with elements of modern R&B and hip-hop. Their lyrics are equally multi-cultural, alternating between English, French, Spanish and Yoruba. 

Bolstered by a drummer and another musician producing their recorded and synthesised sounds, the star of the show is always the sisters’ voices; their harmonies radiate around the theatre, joyful and rich on the balmy outro of 2015’s Ghosts, while taking on a silken, hymnal quality for the haunting Oya. But Naomi brings a Latin flair and a thunderous, pounding beat on the cajón and Batá drums, Peruvian and Yoruba percussion instruments respectively, while Lisa-Kaindé’s piano softens the hard angles. Her solemn minor chords provide the backbone for Mama Says, a poignant song about the loss of the twins’ father, while Naomi sprinkles in a light beat comprised of knee-slaps and finger clicks. 

Though the show never lulls for a second, the duo take the energy up a notch with a double-bill of empowerment anthems: No Man Is Big Enough for My Arms and the rousing drama of Rise Above. From there, they launch straight into the ruthless, lurching chorus of ‘This Is Not America’, their recent collaboration with Puerto Rican rapper Residente, before thrusting us into the storm of Deathless, their 2017 track recorded with Kamasi Washington. 

Finally pausing for breath, Lisa-Kaindé makes another candid address to the audience, introducing Sister 2 Sister as a love song she and Naomi wrote for each other. This heartfelt celebration of sibling love, accompanied by home-video clips of the girls growing up, is easily the night’s most feel-good moment. And rest assured no resident of North Edinburgh will be in any doubt of how to pronounce the duo’s name, thanks to the far-from-shy crowd wholeheartedly assisting with the chorus’s triumphant refrain: ‘here’s how you say it: EE-BAY-EE!’ 

But the sisters conclude on a softer note with an understated rendition of Tears Are Our Medicine, a track from their latest album. As Lisa-Kaindé points out, the song’s tender poetry homes in on what is a core theme across their discography: that of healing. And accompanied only by bass guitar, this finale strips back the excess noise to focus on the foundation of Ibeyi’s music: their voices. 

With thanks to Zoë White for this review.

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