Tiny Desk

Khaira Arby

Download Audio

20 min 35 sec

She arrived in a black Jeep Wrangler, as if straight from the sands of the Sahara. Khaira Arby, draped in a spiraling purple shawl, stepped down out of the passenger seat and stood to the side as two equally elegant Malian singers maneuvered their way, slowly, out of the back seat. The three women looked like international royalty, which in retrospect shouldn't have been surprising. Arby is, after all, essentially the queen of desert rock.

A battered minivan soon pulled up, and out spilled five more musicians — a few more than we'd expected. Luckily, NPR Music has the best engineer in the world, Kevin Wait, who said not to worry; that he'd figure out a way to make it work. Chris Nolan, Arby's tour manager and the man who self-released her album Timbuktu Tarab in the U.S., at first couldn't believe how tiny the performance space really was. But once we showed Nolan and the band a video from Phoenix's appearance, they huddled up and quickly devised a gameplan.

Once we hit "record," everything fell into place. The group performed two songs from Timbuktu Tarab — "Salou" (a praise to Allah) and "Goumou" (a song about Mahoulid, an Islamic festival) — and "Cinquantenaire," which celebrates the 50th anniversary of Mali's independence. Arby, a quiet observer until the tape began to roll, unveiled her stunning vocal chops — and she needed them with seven other musicians and just one stereo mic. But she wasn't the only one to leave our audience in awe. Her young guitarist, Drahmane Toure, might have been the best we had in all year.

Set List
  • "Salou"
  • "Cinquantenaire"
  • "Goumou"
Personnel
  • Khaira Arby (lead vocals)
  • Drahmane Toure (lead guitar)
  • M'Barka Dembele (rhythm guitar)
  • Aballow Yattara (ngoni)
  • Mohamed Ag Mohamed (bass)
  • Mahalmadane Abbanassane Traore (drums)
  • Inna Diarra (background vocals)
  • Abdrahmane Cisse (background vocals)
Credits

Michael Katzif and Mito Habe-Evans (cameras); edited by Michael Katzif, photo by Abby Verbosky/NPR

[+] read more[-] less

More From Tiny Desk

Tiny Desk Concert with Car Seat Headrest. Jun Tsuboike/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Jun Tsuboike/NPR

Tiny Desk

Car Seat Headrest

Will Toledo is a wordsmith with a vision, as well as a DIY sound that's still finely crafted.

Tiny Desk Concert with EL VY. NPR hide caption

toggle caption NPR

Tiny Desk

EL VY

The National's Matt Berninger and Menomena's Brent Knopf team up in an intimate setting.

Tiny Desk Concert with The Arcs. Jessica Mowery/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Jessica Mowery/NPR

Tiny Desk

The Arcs

It's our 500th show at the Tiny Desk, featuring The Black Keys' Dan Auerbach and his new band.

Tiny Desk Concert with Wolf Alice. NPR hide caption

toggle caption NPR

Tiny Desk

Wolf Alice

The band's music can be noisy and primal, but at the Tiny Desk it showed a different side.

Tiny Desk Concert with River Whyless. Jun Tsuboike/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Jun Tsuboike/NPR

Tiny Desk

River Whyless

The North Carolina band fills its rootsy music with unexpected instruments and clever ideas.

Tiny Desk Concert with Benny Sings. Morgan Walker/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Morgan Walker/NPR

Tiny Desk

Benny Sings

The Dutch singer layers R&B, jazz and pop over hip-hop beats in his first-ever U.S. appearance.

Tiny Desk Concert with Natalie Merchant Jun Tsuboike /NPR hide caption

toggle caption Jun Tsuboike /NPR

Tiny Desk

Natalie Merchant

The singer-songwriter gives a warmhearted performance of two new songs, an old favorite and a hymn.

Tiny Desk Concert with Mariachi Flor De Toloache Jun Tsuboike/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Jun Tsuboike/NPR

Tiny Desk

Mariachi Flor De Toloache

While on tour with The Arcs, the powerhouse mariachi band performs live in the NPR Music offices.

Tiny Desk Concert with Rapsody Jun Tsuboike/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Jun Tsuboike/NPR

Tiny Desk

Rapsody

Watch the rapper perform three songs from Beauty And The Beast live at the NPR Music offices.

In January, Mucca Pazza set a Tiny Desk record by fitting 23 members onstage. Colin Marshall/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Colin Marshall/NPR

All Songs Considered

2015: Looking Back On A Year At The Tiny Desk

This year, NPR Music published 84 sessions from behind Bob Boilen's desk. Here are 15 highlights.

Back To Top

NPR thanks our sponsors

Become an NPR sponsor