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Amaarae: Tiny Desk Concert

Amaarae performs a Tiny Desk concert June 22, 2023, at the NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C.
Michael Zamora
/
NPR
Amaarae performs a Tiny Desk concert June 22, 2023, at the NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C.

NPR Music is celebrating Black Music Month with an array of brand new Tiny Desk concerts. Together, these artists represent the past, present and future of Black music. This month of carefully curated shows is a celebration of Black artists expressing themselves in ways we've never seen before, and of the Tiny Desk's unique way of showcasing that talent.

"I think we're in the groove now," Amaarae laughs to her bandmates midway through her Tiny Desk concert. As one of the few breaks she takes in a 20-minute set, the singer-songwriter uses this pause to check the energy and drip of her musical consiglieres. While Amaarae and her soprano command attention in a distressed, rust-colored trench and corset top, the 11-piece band complement their star by rocking T-shirts of the same color palette embroidered with standout lyrics from the songs she's performing: "See my essence, feel my blessings," "Wasted eyes on you", "I like coffee with some head in the morning."

It's this level of intention, precision and playfulness that has gotten the Ghanaian American artist to her Tiny Desk moment. As a writer, her searing wordplay beckons with confidence that's cooler than the other side of the pillow. As a producer, her ear for opposites-attract rhythms creates singular moments on any chart they grace. As a Tiny Desk performer, the sunny, juicy jam of "Big Steppa," acoustic imagining of "Disguise" and extended jubilance of "SAD GIRLZ LUV MONEY" are anchored by Amaarae's knowledge that she's serving up something so forward-facing, it's incomparable.

Born in the Bronx but hailing from Accra, Ghana, Amaarae's appearance on NPR Music's Black Music Month lineup proves how far the sounds of West Africa have stretched to influence the U.S. and, more implicitly, just how much the music defies catch-all labels like "Afrobeats." Fountain Baby, the album that's home to most of the songs Amaarae performs at the Desk, represents what she does best. While it may be categorized as "pop" by streaming services, as an experience, Fountain Baby is an overflowing stream of genre-swerving liquid dopamine, lulling and surprising its listener in waves. Pulling influence from a grab bag of global incantations, Amaarae makes African percussion flirt with baile funk and alté, pop punk and garage, resulting in one of most triumphant albums and Tiny Desk Concerts of 2023 so far.

SET LIST

  • "Reckless & Sweet"
  • "Wasted Eyes"
  • "Disguise"
  • "Big Steppa"
  • "Co-Star"
  • "HELLZ ANGEL"
  • "SAD GIRLZ LUV MONEY"
  • MUSICIANS

  • Amaarae: vocals
  • KZDidIt: arrangement, percussion 
  • Kyu Steed: arrangement, vocals, shaker
  • Tom Levesque: trumpet 
  • Alex Goldblatt: guitar 
  • Braxton Cook: saxophone
  • Amber Nicole: backing vocals
  • Dominique Abrams: backing vocals
  • The Compozers

  • Nana Pokes: bass
  • Charlie Biggz: 1st keyboard
  • David Melodee: 2nd keyboard 
  • Stephen Asamoah-Duah: drums
  • TINY DESK TEAM

  • Producer: Sidney Madden
  • Director/Editor: Kara Frame
  • Audio Engineer: Josh Rogosin
  • Creative Director: Bob Boilen 
  • Series Producer: Bobby Carter
  • Videographers: Kara Frame, Maia Stern, Joshua Bryant, Sofia Seidel
  • Production Assistant: Ashley Pointer
  • Photographer: Michael Zamora
  • Tiny Desk Team: Suraya Mohamed, Hazel Cills
  • VP, Visuals and Music: Keith Jenkins
  • Senior VP, Programming: Anya Grundmann
  • Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Sidney Madden
    Sidney Madden is a reporter and editor for NPR Music. As someone who always gravitated towards the artforms of music, prose and dance to communicate, Madden entered the world of music journalism as a means to authentically marry her passions and platform marginalized voices who do the same.