English singer-songwriter Beth Orton is one of the best-known practitioners of a subgenre in which folk songs are set to electronic beats — it's a sound she employed to popular and powerful effect throughout the late '90s and early '00s, on hit albums such as Trailer Park, Central Reservation and Daybreaker.
The Walkmen's wiry, weary, seething rock 'n' roll has mellowed in recent years, as vein-bulging hollers have given way to a richer, more gently paced and layered sound. But it's still not exactly the stuff of campfire crooning: We'd spent the days leading up to this Tiny Desk Concert in the NPR Music offices wondering how on earth The Walkmen would downsize these songs behind Bob Boilen's desk.
Janet Feder came to NPR with an infant guitar, the curiosity of a child and a wild imagination. The guitar was just a couple of months old — hand made for her by Los Angeles-based guitarist and teacher Miroslav Tadic. It's a nylon-string baritone electric! Its player is diminutive — barely taking up any space behind Bob Boilen's desk. Yet, if you look closely, you'll see the products of her immense curiosity and imagination. A small split ring (like the kind you put your keys on) holds a metal bead in place on the top E string near the sound hole.
"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.