Riding a wave of recent attention from the likes of NPR, NME and Pitchfork, French-Cuban twin sister electronic group Ibeyi played a sold-out show at Mississippi Studios on Saturday night, April 4, 2015. Their self-titled debut record evocatively combines their background in traditional Cuban percussion with contemporary electronic textures and strong, intricate vocals, and I was interested to find out how they would translate their electronic arrangements to the stage.
The room was already full for opener Flo Morrissey, a young singer-songwriter from the UK who played a solo set of sentimental love songs from her upcoming debut album. Her delicate yet powerful mezzo-soprano voice is her strongest asset, and she's a confident performer for an artist who has released but one official single. That single, “Pages of Gold” (listen below), is bolstered by effervescent, synthy production, but the songs sounded more haunting and appealing the way she performed them on Saturday—just Morrissey's voice and the piano or guitar.
Given that their debut contains some convoluted production elements, Ibeyi were able to pull off most of the arrangements live. Lisa-Kaindé Diaz stuck to the piano and performed the lead vocals while her twin sister Naomi balanced complicated vocal harmonies with triggering samples and playing Cuban percussion. Her cajón was processed to function like heavily saturated hip-hop drum samples, and between their voices, the piano and the percussion, their stage sound was impressively full. During songs that relied on triggering the sampler for backing tracks, the duo had a lot on their hands—there were a couple of times where they had to restart songs when they made a mistake involving the sampler, but when they did, they acknowledged it with the casual confidence of experienced performers. The duo paused briefly to deliver rehearsed banter before their most well-known songs—“Oye” (below) and “River”—but otherwise they predominantly stuck to running their set and letting their music and emotive voices move the audience.
When they returned for a brief encore, the duo reprised their hit “River” (below) in a stripped-down arrangement. As to be expected from a young band, they don't have a ton of material, but they have what matters: an immense amount of talent, technical ability, and promise for their age and stage of their career.