Sudan Archives is a truly singular artist, inspired by Irish and African music, especially Sudanese music. The first time I saw her was in a crowd of people at Cheer Up Charlies during SXSW in March of 2018. The show was wild and wonderful: effects pedals transformed her violin into a full-on band, with electronic beats keeping it all moving.
Almost exactly two years later, things couldn't be more different. On March 6, SXSW 2020 was canceled due to COVID-19. By the time Sudan Archives arrived at NPR in Washington, D.C., on March 11, everyone was concerned about the coronavirus threat. So we sanitized the desk, the mics and the cameras. We also kept our distance.
She came not with an array of electronics, but with violinist Jessica McJunkins, violist Dominic Johnson and cellist Khari Joyner. The new arrangement at the top of "Confessions" was the perfect tension queller. And those arrangements also heighten the lyrics. Listening again three months later, three weeks into police brutality protests, the words — "There is a place that I call home / But it's not where I am welcome / And if I saw all the angels / Why is my presence so painful?" — take on new meaning.
When the show was over and the small, socially-distant crowd of NPR employees dispersed, our crew began to wipe everything down with disinfectant wipes. Our incredible audio engineer, Josh Rogosin, started to set up for what we thought would be the next Tiny Desk show, the Pulitzer Prize-winning opera p r i s m by Ellen Reid and Roxie Perkins.
Josh Rogosin remembers the day clearly. "After the Sudan Archives concert, I optimistically went about setting up for a string quartet plus an eight-person choir and two vocal soloists, plus harp and conductor," he told me. "About halfway through my set-up, our boss gathered us around the Tiny Desk and made the painful but obvious decision. No more Tiny Desks until further notice."
Three months later, things are not looking much better. I miss it madly. There will be Tiny Desk concerts again and the celebration will be joyous. We'll do it as soon as it feels safe. Stay tuned and enjoy the nearly 1,000 concerts in our archives.
- "Nont For Sale"
Sudan Archives: vocals, violin; Dominic Johnson: viola; Jessica McJunkins: violin; Khari Joyner: cello
Producers: Bob Boilen, Morgan Noelle Smith, Jack Corbett; Creative director: Bob Boilen; Audio engineers: Josh Rogosin, Natasha Branch; Videographers: Bronson Arcuri, Jack Corbett, Kara Frame, Melany Rochester; Associate Producer: Bobby Carter; Executive producer: Lauren Onkey; VP, programming: Anya Grundmann; Photo: Kisha Ravi/NPR