Tiny Desk

Souad Massi

Download Audio

Souad Massi: Tiny Desk Concert

"Every one of us has a story in his heart... Storyteller, tell us stories to make us forget our reality. Leave us in the world of once upon a time."

So go some of the lines from "Raoui" ("Storyteller"), the opening song in this Tiny Desk Concert with Algerian singer-songwriter Souad Massi. Performing in a mix of North African Arabic, Berber and French, Massi has carved out a life for herself as just such a storyteller. Her unflinching, deeply intimate songs — paired with her beautiful, cool light-beam of a voice — belie the struggles she's endured to make her own stories heard.

Born in Algeria to a Berber (Kabyle) family in 1972, Massi grew up in the capital city of Algiers. On her way to rehearsals with her rock band as a teenager, men used to spit at and harass her for wearing jeans and toting a guitar. When civil war erupted in 1992, life became even more dangerous for Massi: After she released her first album, she was targeted for assassination by Islamic fundamentalists.

Rather than bury her dream, Massi held a tight grip on her convictions. In 1999, she was invited to Paris to perform in a "Women of Algeria" festival — and within three days, Universal France had signed her. Now based in Paris, she's since become one of the major musical stars of the Arab world: Massi has sold hundreds of thousands of albums across Europe and North Africa, and in 2006 won the prestigious BBC Radio 3 Award for World Music.

What's perhaps most amazing about Massi is that, while her music — and her identity as an artist — puts her in direct opposition to many forces at work in her native country, her music isn't self-aggrandizing or shouted from a bully pulpit. Artistically, she's set herself apart, as well; even confessional love songs like "Ghir Enta" ("No One but You") bear little resemblance to the sappy sentiments that dominate Arab pop ballads. There's a trembling note of fragility within: "Now you're by my side," she sings, "But tomorrow, who knows? That's how the world is — sweet and bitter at the same time."

As a composer, Massi embraces everything from soft French chanson to Brazilian tropicalismo to Congolese soukous to the innately multicultural rhythms of her native Maghreb. Those flavors tend to come out most fully when she's backed by her band, but you can still feel the North African undercurrent which propels her song "Amessa" ("A Day Will Come").

In spite of the great tenderness Massi displays in this solo set, you can't forget about her steely, inner core — the one that brought her to her full life as an artist. "There are people who lament over their destiny, people who cry on their own tombstones while they are still alive," she sings in "Le Bien et le Mal" ("The Good and the Evil"). "There are people who grow old before their time. We're fed up with this life."

Set List:
  • "Raoui" (Storyteller)
  • "Ghir Enta" (No One but You)
  • "Amessa" (A Day Will Come)
  • "Le Bien et le mal" (The Good and the Evil)

Producer: Anastasia Tsioulcas; Editor: Michael Katzif; Videographers: Nick Michael and Bob Boilen; Audio Engineer: Kevin Wait; Photo by Becky Lettenberger/NPR

[+] read more[-] less

More From Tiny Desk

Tiny Desk Concert with Deqn Sue. Jun Tsuboike/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Jun Tsuboike/NPR

Tiny Desk

Deqn Sue

She came so close to winning NPR Music's Tiny Desk Concert Contest, we just had to see her play.

Tiny Desk Concert with Lianne La Havas Jun Tsuboike /NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Jun Tsuboike /NPR

Tiny Desk

Lianne La Havas

The singer is soulful yet playful, raw and vulnerable in a commanding kind of way.

Tiny Desk Concert with The Internet. Cameron Robert/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Cameron Robert/NPR

Tiny Desk

The Internet

The R&B band might just be the oddest thing to come from the hip-hop collective Odd Future.

Tiny Desk Concert with Joan Shelley and Nathan Salsburg. Lani Milton/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Lani Milton/NPR

Tiny Desk

Joan Shelley

As technology rules the day, here's a reminder that a single voice can carry deep emotion.

Tiny Desk Concert with Gina Chavez Lydia Thompson/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Lydia Thompson/NPR

Tiny Desk

Gina Chavez

The Austin singer-songwriter performs with intense openness, directness and warmth.

Fiona Apple performs with the Watkins Family Hour at the Tiny Desk. Ariel Zambelich/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Ariel Zambelich/NPR

Tiny Desk

Watkins Family Hour

With help from Fiona Apple, two Nickel Creek alums gather a band to perform old and new songs.

Tiny Desk Concert with Chris and Morgane Stapleton Lani Milton/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Lani Milton/NPR

Tiny Desk

Chris Stapleton

With his wife Morgane, the country singer-songwriter sings patient, detailed songs of devotion.

Tiny Desk Concert with Sam Lee Lydia Thompson /NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Lydia Thompson /NPR

Tiny Desk

Sam Lee

The singer found his voice by finding and preserving old British, Irish and Scottish folk songs.

Tiny Desk Concert with Leon Bridges Lydia Thompson/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Lydia Thompson/NPR

Tiny Desk

Leon Bridges

Bridges is easy to love and hard to resist, with purity in his voice that's untouched by modern pop.

Tiny Desk Concert with Happyness Morgan Walker/NRR hide caption

itoggle caption Morgan Walker/NRR

Tiny Desk


If you're a fan of dark, incredibly dry, wry humor, you've just found Happyness.

Back To Top