LIVE: Ibeyi @ Hoxton Hall, London

Soul, spirituality, and a sense of sororal unity pervaded the experimental R&B duo's album launch party, which included a surprise guest appearance from Jorja Smith.
Posted: 16 May 2022 Words: James Kilpin Photos: Marc Prodanovic

From the moment of crossing the threshold into Hoxton Hall on Saturday night (14th May), the sense of the evening being a celebration was unmistakable: “Good things are here. I can feel them” the message on the wristband issued to all in attendance. A photo stand-in (or, if you will, a ‘picture you put your head in’) of the album cover for Ibeyi’s recently released third record Spell 31 positioned in the entrance. A DJ playing an array of nostalgic R&B club bangers.

Lined along the merch stand are free pamphlets; the front is adorned simply by a logo of the band’s name and an image of seashell, white on a black background. On the back, a frankly adorable childhood photo of the twin sisters Lisa-Kaindé Diaz and Naomi Diaz. More photographs from their childhood feature within, combined with shots of the recording sessions that birthed their third album that we are all here to celebrate, pictures of handwritten notes on the tracklisting and album artwork, and behind-the-scenes snaps from video shoots. 

All of these are interspersed among a handwritten note entitled ‘Why Ibeyi?’ in which Lisa writes with a beautiful openness and poeticism about their origins, their family – both living and sadly departed – and what creating art together means to the pair of twins who have captivated audiences across the globe since their earliest releases when they were only just out of their teens, in the mid part of the last decade. 

Fittingly, Naomí’s contribution to the pamphlet takes the form of vibrant, abstract, and energetic paintings, perfectly encapsulating the relationship between the twins – “our differences became our salvation, our learning, our guide and compass, and made us unique as a group” writes Lisa; “I needed her fire, her rhythm, her instincts… and in turn I pushed and challenged her, asking her to embrace me, with my calmness, pragmatism”.

It’s a relationship and dynamic which plays out not only in the creative process, or in the art itself, but also very clearly in the way they interact on stage – whether that’s with one another, with their band, or with the audience.

When Naomí isn’t sitting astride the cajón sharing triumphant glances with the drummer, or standing behind the mounted bata drum adding her trademark percussive flair that provides the rhythmic heartbeat of Ibeyi’s music, she dances or struts across the front of the stage playfully snarling at the audience as she cups a hand to her ear or beckons for more cheering from an already adoring crowd.

Meanwhile Lisa’s performance shines in its passion and pain, the combined delicacy and strength of her soulful vocals, which she generally takes the lead on throughout the show.

This being an event to mark the release of new album Spell 31 – a shimmering record which glistens with joy and compassion – the setlist is heavily populated with new tracks: among them Pa Salieu collaboration and lead single ‘Made of Gold’, ‘Creature (Perfect)’, and towards the end of the show the beautiful, heartfelt sororal love-letter ‘Sister 2 Sister’, complete with coordinated dance moves as both sing gazing affectionately into one another’s eyes.

There’s also a special guest appearance from Jorja Smith, joining part way through to perform ‘Lavender & Red Roses’, a song which seems to invite her into the family affair as part of the vocal harmonies rather than with a simple standalone guest verse – a creative decision which adds to the feel of family and collaboration.

According to Lisa’s handwritten words “Ibeyi is our purpose, it transforms our darkness, our pain, our anger into light. It allows us to share our hearts, to connect with ourselves, our ancestors, our Dead, to connect as sisters and with the world”, and this transformation, this sharing, and above all this connection had been laid bare across a truly magical evening. 

One which concludes, fittingly, with the Yoruba chant from the end of set-closer ‘River’, performed together a capella, front-and-centre, in what is perhaps the most pure distillation of the emotion, spirituality and sense of unity that had pervaded every moment of what had come before it.

Spell 31 is out now via XL .

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