The Tiny Desk is working from home for the foreseeable future. Introducing NPR Music's Tiny Desk (home) concerts, bringing you performances from across the country and the world. It's the same spirit — stripped-down sets, an intimate setting — just a different space.
Yasmin Williams doesn't need much scenery to set your imagination in motion. For her Tiny Desk (home) concert, the Virginia-based guitarist keeps the background sparse (a rug, a folding table, curtains, a plank of wood) to foreground her inventive playing.
Williams' set begins with Urban Driftwood's "Juvenescence," a tenderly picked tune that suddenly springs to life when she flips the acoustic guitar onto her lap to fingertap the dizzying variation. In the hands of others, this move signifies showmanship that highlights ability, but sometimes downplays the substance of the song. For Williams, technique and songcraft are one in the same; if she runs out of fingers to drum the body of the guitar, she straps on tap shoes ("Through the Woods"); if a quiet melody requires a hint of percussion, she strikes the strings with a mallet hammer ("On a Friday Night"). In these songs, the center is exploration — this Tiny Desk performance, in camera angles overhead and out front, shows us the tools that help Williams execute her vision via finger picks, taps, slides and knocks. Oh, and there's a kalimba taped to the body of her guitar, too!
"After the Storm," inspired by some Black Lives Matter protests Williams attended last summer, is where the musician expands her universe (and wardrobe!) in a four-way split screen of herself. Overtones from a 12-string guitar drift across a resolute six-string melody and, later, a harp guitar's swirling countermelody, and a brief backing from a fourth guitar. "I was trying to digest everything that was happening," she says of the song, capturing the complex emotions that flood the way forward, with an eye toward hope.
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