Ibeyi lights up the night with an engaging set at Union Transfer

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Ibeyi | photo by Koof Ibi Umoren for WXPN

The duo of Lisa-Kaindé Diaz and Naomi Diaz — also known as Ibeyi, the word for twins in Yoruba — showcased their soothing vocals and unapologetic, youthful energy at Union Transfer last Saturday. They darted around the stage to their different instrument stations in complementary colored red and blue jumpsuits, utilizing every inch of the stage.

In contrast, theMIND, a Philadelphia native now living in Chicago, stayed fairly confined to standing centerstage in his opening set. His eye contact with his friends and family in the front row and in the balcony was only broken when he took a seat mid stage to perform a song that seemed to be more of a cautionary letter to himself than a performance for the audience. Ben Hixon handled the tracks, added a few shredding guitar solos, and accompanied on keyboard. Zarif Wilder provided intimately crafted lyrics that spoke of the city he grew up loving and inspirations for the next generation coming up in his footsteps. “We’re bigger than they told us we were.” Zarif echoed his critics’ comparison of his 2016 album Summer Camp to Frank Ocean’s catalog by performing “Ivy” from Ocean’s Blond.

theMIND | photo by Koof Ibi Umoren for WXPN

During the transition from opener to headliner, the stage was fitted with Ibeyi’s keyboards and percussion instruments (cajon and bata drums) along with a set of sliding venetian blinds that added a sense of cinematic intimacy to the stage, as if the audience were about to be serenaded inside of the bands home studio.

The two emerged from backstage and immediately took center stage to bask in the applause of the audience before heading to there instrument stations. Lisa took a seat at one of the two keyboard stations and Naomi sat at the cajon to her left. The cajon ended up being more chair than instrument as Naomi was able to fill the room with rhythm with just her hands and her thighs. The audience was instantly drench in the pair’s rich harmony, repeating phrases and adding layer after layer until the sound of the two musicians transformed into that of a small village. The feeling began to catch on as the vocal arrangement for the night crescendoed from a single solo singer to a sing-a-long involving every person in the building.

Ibeyi | photo by Koof Ibi Umoren for WXPN

The French twins’ music echoes West Africa as they reveal their lineage through overlapping rhythms and musical genres. Afro-Cuban percussion laid the foundation for wide open vocals in English, French, Spanish, Yoruba, and I think I heard a little Bulgarian in ”I Carried This For Years” from this year’s Ash. The live and electric percussion blended perfectly as the pair moved from station to station between songs, stopping center stage every few songs to showcase their more ‘hip-hop’ lyrics and dance moves.

The set consisted of songs from Ash, including “I Wanna Be Like You” a song Lisa admitted to writing about her sister. A sample of Michelle Obama’s voice rang out, “The measure of any society is how it treats its women and girls,” as the sisters performed “No Man Is Big Enough for My Arms,” a not-so subtle response to remarks from a powerful world leader. The audience got to sing along to the ominous and slow building “Oya” from their 2015 self-titled debut album. Naomi even left her percussion station to play a piano duet with her sister on “Transmission,” which the duo performed intimately before beaconing for crowd participation. Kamasi Washington’s pre-recorded saxophone echoed throughout the song “Deathless” which ended with the a building-wide chant, “Whatever happens, whatever happen, We are Deathless.”

Ibeyi | photo by Koof Ibi Umoren for WXPN

The two ended the night by lining up the venetian blinds to reveal the pair of eyes from their album art. The eyes oversaw the last song “River,” which turned into an extended call in response between the band and the audience.

“Come to your river
(Wash my soul)
I will come to your river
(Wash my soul)
I will come to your river
Wash my soul again”

Check out a gallery of photos from the show below.

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