It took only one Yoruba chant before Ibeyi had fans swaying drowsily under their spell.
Lisa-Kaindé Diaz and Naomi Diaz, the twins who make up Ibeyi, slunk onto the 9:30 Club stage on Wednesday like priestesses preparing for a solemn ritual. And in some ways, they were: They started off the show with the a cappella “Eleggua,” a throaty hymn that worships a spirit in the West African Yoruba culture, from which the French-Cuban sisters descend.
They have been enchanting crowds since dropping their eponymous album, “Ibeyi,” which means “twins” in Yoruba. The debut is a tight collection of Afro-Cuban culture and come-hither rhythms that blend spooky trip-hop synths, French whispers, bata drums and the thuds of a Cuban cajón drum. That last instrument they inherited from their father, legendary Cuban percussionist Anga Díaz, who manned the box drum for the Buena Vista Social Club before his death in 2006.
Now, Naomi is in charge of providing the heartbeat for each hypnotic song. The tougher of the two twins, she hid coolly under a waterfall of dark, black hair, proving her dexterity by perching over the cajón, fiddling with synths, and whacking the bata drums. Lisa filled sparse piano melodies with a thick and honeyed voice that reaches a surprisingly high register when the pair’s otherworldly incantations need more power. Together, they harmonize effortlessly in spellbinding choruses.
Their hour-long set floated on like a melodic memoir, packed with haunting odes to the ghost of their father, the spirit of their dead older sister and elusive Yoruba deities.
Delicate songs like “Yanira” and “Mama Says” lingered on seductively, with interspersed beats and synths that never quite reached full climax — not a bad thing, in most cases. But because of their penchant for minimal arrangements, Ibeyi’s songs can start to slip in and out of each other like a continuous fever dream. The 20-year-olds have tapped into a formula that is in itself unique and beautifully eerie, but the tracks can be slightly indiscernible from one another.
Some of the band’s most bewitching moments were the ones that broke the trance: Both sisters abandoned their seated positions to dance slowly to “Think of You,” a darker tune with a contagious beat that samples their father’s drumming and voice. They ended the set by getting everyone in the audience chanting and clapping in unison for a reprise of “River.”
It was in these bursts of energy and stage presence that the twins proved that their natural talents overpower any kind of spiritual alchemy.
Lopez is a freelance writer.