On Tuesday night (Jan. 18), globalFest will premiere its second annual digital festival in partnership with NPR Music. Starting at 8 p.m. ET for the next three evenings, four-time Grammy winner Angelique Kidjo will once again host the Tiny Desk Meets globalFEST series with nine artists from around the world, including South Korea, Mali, Finland and Mexico.
Since 2003, the annual festival has been a one-night, in-person celebration that promotes global and American regional music traditions and creates touring opportunities for artists of all genres. But in late December, it became clear to organizers that an in-person festival was no longer viable for its staff and artists. The annual event was scheduled to take place Jan. 16 at the renovated Webster Hall in New York, but the upward trend of the highly transmissible omicron variant of COVID-19 made it an unsafe option for everyone involved, especially artists who travel from around the world to perform.
“It was getting to be a little insane asking artists to continue trying to secure visas and flights,” says globalFEST co-director Shanta Thake. “Boy, were we glad we already had Tiny Desk set up this year.”
Creator and host of NPR’s All Things Considered Bob Boilen had been attending globalFEST since 2009, and every year his show helped promote artists discovered at the nonprofit event. In addition, NPR was already broadcasting the yearly festival and saw a good opportunity to further team up with globalFEST for its first Tiny Desk version in 2021.
“After last year’s Tiny Desk Meets globalFEST, we understood that it held a lot of opportunity for these artists that wasn’t possible in previous years,” says Thake. “Having each of them have their own Tiny Desk [concert] was an unbelievable asset.”
While the in-person event at Wesbter Hall provided an unparalleled connection for many artists, the venue only holds 1,500 fans. In comparison, the 2021 Tiny Desk Meets globalFEST videos have surpassed 2 million online views. According to Thake, the videos have helped globalFEST artists book international tours, get agents and build a portfolio – all of which were goals of the original in-person events.
Tiny Desk’s “audience is international now. It’s not just an American audience that comes to see us now,” Boilen tells Billboard, adding globalFEST “fits right at home for us and the curation is so brilliant we keep going.”
The artists being showcased this year have each recorded “at-home” sessions with their own unique flourishes that represent their culture and them as individuals. The lineup includes Ak Dan Gwang Chil (ADG7) (South Korea), Al Bilali Soudan (Mali), Bedouin Burger (France | Lebanon | Syria), Kiran Ahluwalia (India | Canada | USA), Kombilesa Mí (Colombia), Northern Cree (Canada), Son Rompe Pera (Mexico), Suistamon Sähkö (Finland) and Tufan Derince Group (Turkey | The Netherlands).
Tiny Desk globalFEST will also include translations for each artist’s work as they sing. Fans who do not understand the language will be able to in real time what the artist is saying.
“The world, for sure, over the past dozen plus years is getting more communal and the exchange of ideas more rapid,” says Boilen. “There’s a beauty to this awful thing that happened – shutting down live concerts – which is heartbreaking, but on the other hand it’s opened a door to see these artists and to our ears that much of the world wouldn’t have had the chance to see.”
Check out the first three artists tonight when Tiny Desk Meets globalFEST kicks off at 8 p.m. ET Tuesday night on NPR’s YouTube Channel.