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Omar Sosa & Seckou Keita, SUBA Trio: Tiny Desk Concert

We've had hundreds of different voices and instruments behind the Tiny Desk over the years, but to my ears the performance that featured Omar Sosa and Seckou Keita sounded as if it was dropped directly from the heavens of musical compatibility right into our laps.

From the very start of "Allah Léno," the notes began to sprinkle down like soft snowflakes from Sosa's piano and Keita's magnificent, double-necked (22 strings each) West African kora, while percussionist Gustavo Ovalles' tasteful drumming percolated beneath the interplay of Sosa and Keita. Proving once again that the Tiny Desk space is sacred ground for musical inspiration, barely four minutes in, Keita ended an inspired run with a huge smile acknowledged by his bandmates as well as those lucky enough to be in the NPR Music offices that day.

The title of the second song "Kharit" means "friendship" in the Senegalese language wolof and it starts with Ovalles' spellbinding, rhythmic work with traditional Venezuelan maracas. It starts at a relaxed pace but picks up speed with intuitive interaction between Sosa and Keita.

The last song "Maam" is devoted to "all mothers," a sentiment that cuts across borders. This is truly an international band with Sosa hailing from Cuba, Keita from Senegal and Ovalles from Venezuela and the song titles are a mix of Arabic and west African wolof. And for about twenty, glorious minutes, the Tiny Desk was a weigh station along an ancient musical route connecting our imaginations with the vision of a truly remarkable trio.

SET LIST

  • "Allah Léno"
  • "Kharit"
  • "Maam"
  • MUSICIANS

  • Omar Sosa: piano
  • Seckou Keita: kora
  • Gustavo Ovalles: percussion
  • TINY DESK TEAM

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

    Corrected: July 6, 2023 at 8:00 PM AKDT
    A previous version of this story identified a kora as having 24 strings. It is a double-necked, 22-string kora.
    Felix Contreras is co-creator and host of Alt.Latino, NPR's pioneering radio show and podcast celebrating Latin music and culture since 2010.