NPR

tUne-yArDs – NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert


Tune-Yards (stylized as tUnE-yArDs) is the music project of New England native Merrill Garbus. Garbus’s music draws from an eclectic variety of sources and utilizes elements such as loop pedals, ukulele, vocals, and lo-fi percussion, in addition to electric bass played by Nate Brenner. Tune-Yards’ 2011 album Whokill was ranked the number one album of that year in The Village Voice’s annual Pazz and Jop critic’s poll.

Garbus was born in 1979 and was raised in New York City and in New Canaan, Connecticut. She attended Smith College. She was a puppeteer for the Sandglass Theater in Vermont and lived in Montreal where she played ukulele in the band Sister Suvi with guitarist Patrick Gregoire and drummer Nico Dann. Merrill’s sister Ruth Garbus is also a musician who has played solo and in the band Happy Birthday. After releasing her first Tune-Yards album in 2008, she moved to Oakland, California, where her partner in Tune-Yards, Nate Brenner, also lives.

The first Tune-Yards album, Bird-Brains (stylized as BiRd-BrAiNs) was originally self-released by Garbus on recycled cassette tape. It was recorded using only a handheld voice recorder. A limited edition vinyl was released in June 2009, via the Portland-based imprint Marriage Records. In July 2009, it was announced that Tune-Yards had signed to 4AD, and a limited edition pressing of Bird-Brains was released on August 17, 2009. A full worldwide release followed on November 16, 2009 (and November 17 in North America). The autumn 2009 pressing was remastered at Abbey Road Studios by Christian Wright, and includes two new bonus tracks: “Want Me To” and “Real Live Flesh.”

A second album, Whokill (stylized as w h o k i l l), was released on April 19, 2011. A single from it, “Bizness”, came out in February 2011. It was produced by Garbus and engineered by Eli Crews at New, Improved Studios in Oakland, California. Applying the live approach to Garbus’ studio work for the first time, Garbus works with bass player Nate Brenner, who co-wrote some of the album’s songs. Comparing the act to Sonic Youth, Frontier Psychiatrist said, “if Bird-Brains was Garbus’ Evol, a record bursting with musical ideas that attempted to subvert the notion of song, who kill is Garbus’ Sister, a record that embraces the traditional pop song as a vehicle to convey those ideas.” The album as well as singles “Bizness” and “Gangsta” received mention on many top 2011 album and song lists, including Time, Rolling Stone, Spin, and the New York Times. In early 2012, the Village Voice’s annual “Pazz and Jop” poll of critics named Whokill the No. 1 album of 2011. The song “Fiya” is featured on a 2010 commercial for the Blackberry Torch, while the song “Gangsta” has been used in the television shows Orange Is the New Black, Weeds and The Good Wife and the song “Bizness” was used in Season 3 of Transparent.

Garbus started recording material for her third LP during the latter half of 2013, with a working title of Sink-o. A May 6, 2014 release date was later announced with the title Nikki Nack.

A fourth album was released on January 19, 2018 called I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life.

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The Roots feat. Bilal – NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert


Armed with the incredible vocalist Bilal, The Roots performed the signature track from Detroit, a film about the race riots in 1967. “It Ain’t Fair” glares unflinchingly, takes a knee and raises a fist against the societal construct that has systematically denied equality of experience to those “presumed inferior,” to quote one of Bilal’s verses. And it achieves all this while covering its heart with its right hand. This reflective hymn tenderly yanks your heart strings and offers a window into the ethos of those who would like to stand for the flag but cannot in good principle, lest these same evils continue to exist.

Those lucky enough to be in the Tiny Desk audience witnessed masters at work. Black Thought is truly one of the most intelligent emcees ever, and his razor-sharp lyricism was on full display. Questlove, a musical and cultural historian nonpareil, was both a metronomical and moral anchor. It felt like the culmination of decades of academic rigor and boom-bap sessions, fittingly backed by a seven-piece horn section. Bilal’s falsetto-laced vocals and warm resonance evoked powerful messaging reminiscent of Curtis Mayfield’s “Don’t Worry,” delivered with the eccentricity of Prince.

Late last year, Common premiered “Letter to the Free” at the Tiny Desk and later won an Emmy for the song. It wouldn’t surprise me if “It Ain’t Fair” becomes another award-winning performance when the Oscars roll around early next year. This is a song that deserves to be heard in the millions of households that watch The Roots every night.

Set List:
“It Ain’t Fair”

MUSICIANS:
Curtis L. Jones Jr (Trombone), Arnetta Johnson (Trumpet), Hiruy E. Tirfe (Sax), Richard L. Tate II (Sax), Joseph Streater (Trumpet), Norman J. Bradshaw (Trombone), Damon Bryson (Sousaphone), Ahmir (Questlove) Thompson (Drums), Tarik (Black Thought) Trotter (Emcee), Bilal Oliver (Vocals)

Tash Sultana – NPR Tiny Desk Concert


This 21-year-old Maltese-Australian got a guitar from her grandfather when she was three, she says, and has played it every day since. It’s astonishing to watch Sultana’s fluidity on her instrument, like a natural extension of her body. (She also plays bass, saxophone, trumpet, flute and more, but kept it “simple” at the Tiny Desk.) I thought I had a lot of energy — watching her bounce from guitar to drum machine to two separate microphones — and then hopping barefoot from looping pedal to effect pedal as she builds her songs was exhilarating and exhausting. There’s more here than an exercise in virtuosity, her music is filled with adventure and ambition. These songs are rapturous and resonant.

Set List:
“Jungle
“Notion”
“Blackbird”

SsingSsing – NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert


One look at (and listen to) the cross-dressing, Asian rock band SsingSsing and you would hardly think they’re singing music inspired by traditional Korean folk. But SsingSsing isn’t like any other band I’ve ever seen or heard.

The group sings a regional folk style called minyo and the gender bending look has to do with shamans not glamour. As singer Hee-moon Lee describes it, “In Korean traditional art, male shamans, called baksu, have the body of a male. But as mediums, they need more than a single sexual identity, because they’re channeling both male and female spirits. When I act a female character and sing, I have to overcome the fact of my being a male sorikkun (singer), and try my utmost to bring a more neutral, unisex feeling to the performance. It sounds silly, but I feel like going back to the sensibilities of my youth, when I liked Madonna, helps.”

The understated music, the small dramatic gestures and the costumes all combine for one of my most memorable Tiny Desk Concerts of all time.

Set List:
“Minyo Medley”
“Nanbongga (Song of Beloveds)”
“Saseol Nanbongga (Narrative Song of Beloveds)”

MUSICIANS:
Hee-moon Lee (vocal), Da-hye Choo (vocal), Seung-tae Shin (vocal), Young-gyu Jang (bass guitar), Tae-won Lee (electric guitar), and Chul-hee Lee (drums)

Preservation Hall Jazz Band – NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert


Preservation Hall Jazz Band is a hot and historic outfit from New Orleans, and its members brought us a tuba-wielding Santa and some original holiday cheer and praise — what they call a Cajun Christmas from the French Quarter.

We lit some lights and decorated my desk and shelves as best we could, but it’s this amazing band — complete with saxophone, trombone, trumpet, drums and a couple of tubas — that lit this place up. We’ve never had so much dancing from the NPR crew at a Tiny Desk Concert. So enjoy the show, and happy holidays to all from NPR Music. –BOB BOILEN

Set List:
“Sugar Plum”
“I Think I Love You”
“Happy Holiday”
“Dear Lord”

Sinkane – Tiny Desk Concert


Sinkane opened its Tiny Desk Concert with a song that has been a bit of an anthem for me lately. “U’Huh” contains the Arabic phrase “kulu shi tamaam,” which translates to “everything’s great — it’s all going to be all right.”

Sinkane is the music of Ahmed Gallab — and such hopeful music it is. He grew up in London and has lived in Sudan and in Ohio and, these days, New York City. His band reflects his own love for music from around the world; you can hear a great New York jazz band in the rhythms of Sinkane, but you can also hear the influence of Bob Marley and the hypnotic repetition of Sudanese desert sounds.

Set List:
“U’Huh”
“Favorite Song”
“Deadweight”

René Marie – NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert


July 27, 2016 by PATRICK JARENWATTANANON • The Colorado River — better known for running through majestic National Parks and powering hydroelectric dams — forms an unlikely backdrop for the creation of a jazz song. But René Marie was answering phones at Denver’s jazz radio station KUVO when she sat down across from a fellow volunteer fundraiser. He would soon invite her on a canoeing trip and, without yet having seen the eponymous river, she wrote the giddy “Colorado River Song” on the way there.

René Marie’s is the sort of voice which first comes to mind when someone asks for a jazz singer — big and expressive, at home in classic swinging settings and comfortable in crowds. There’s plenty to set her apart, though. She made her first recording in her early 40s, so she’s a late bloomer by any standard. Her tastes admit many influences, and she’s got a penchant for original songwriting, especially where social justice intersects with personal biography. Her folky story-song “This Is (Not) A Protest Song” addresses homelessness and mental illness even in her own family.

Joined by her Experiment In Truth band (John Chin on piano, Elias Bailey on bass, Quentin Baxter on drums), Marie visited NPR headquarters to play songs from her new album Sound Of Red. She never specified the exact nature of that synesthetic idea, though the title track would seem to indicate that it’s about the addictive and lusty blood-rush of performing — of seeing red while singing the blues. In the audience was the bold KUVO volunteer from that day 10 years ago. His name is Jesse, and they’re now married and live in her home state of Virginia; they drove up together for this Tiny Desk concert.

Set List:
“Colorado River Song”
“This Is (Not) A Protest Song”
“Sound Of Red”

The Suffers – NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert


October 27, 2015 by BOB BOILEN
At first, I couldn’t pull my attention away from irrepressible singer Kam Franklin, whose down-to-earth but uplifting presence put a huge smile on my face. But as The Suffers’ set progressed, I became increasingly enchanted with the band, which was part Archie Bell & The Drells and part James Brown, with a touch of New Orleans and even Jamaican reggae.

It was a perfect mix of power and delicacy, as the band held back at moments only to steamroll me when my guard was down. The group has only two EPs, with an album on the way, and trust me: 2016 will be The Suffers’ year. Look for the band on far bigger stages soon enough.

Set List
“Giver”
“Midtown”
“Gwan”

Booker T. Jones – NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert


Jones’ name is synonymous with the Hammond B3 organ. At 17, he recorded the instrument’s anthem, “Green Onions,” with his band Booker T and The MG’s. Watch him play the song all alone in the NPR Music offices — and with such joy, you’d swear he just discovered it.

Set List:
“Green Onions”
“Born Under A Bad Sign”
“Down In Memphis”

Benjamin Clementine – Tiny Desk Concert


Right near the top of this performance, Benjamin Clementine looks toward the camera with an intense stare and sings, “Where I’m from, you see the rain / Before the rain even starts to rain.” At that point, when I’m already hanging on every word, I feel like I’m witnessing an almost otherworldly presence — a visitor with wisdom to impart.

Clementine is a musician and poet who grew up in London and later moved to Paris, where as a teenager he slept on the streets at night and busked in the daylight hours. That’s how he was “discovered,” and in 2015, he released his first album, At Least For Now. There are intimate moments of revelation in this immersive, breathtaking performance, and his voice and piano both sound magnificent. I can’t think of anyone quite like him.

April 18, 2016 by BOB BOILEN