When the intrepid string quartet known as Brooklyn Rider first visited the Tiny Desk nine years ago, no one knew what the musicians might play. They're as likely to trot out an Asian folk tune as they are a string quartet by Beethoven, or one of their own compositions.
For this visit though, we knew exactly what was on tap. The band, fronted by the smoky-voiced Magos Herrera and backed by percussionist Mathias Kunzli, performed three songs from the album Dreamers, a collection steeped in Latin American traditions.
The versatile Mexican singer, who has never sounded more expressive, notes that these songs emerge from struggle.
Gilberto Gil's bossa nova-inspired "Eu vim da Bahia" is a tribute to his home state. He released it in 1965 as Brazil's military dictatorship took charge. The atmospheric, flamenco-tinged "La Aurora de Nueva York," by Vicente Amigo, sets a gritty depiction of the city by Federico García Lorca, who fell to assassins during the Spanish Civil War in 1936. And "Balderrama," by the Argentine folk legend Gustavo Leguizamón, ruminates on a café which served as a safe haven for artists to talk about their work.
The music and the poetry, Herrera explained, "transcended dark times" for its authors. These fresh performances, imbued with both joy and pain, recall the past and point to the present.
- Gilberto Gil: "Eu vim da Bahia"
- Vicente Amigo (lyrics by Federico García Lorca): "La Aurora de Nueva York"
- Gustavo Leguizamón: "Balderrama"
Magos Herrera: vocals; Mathias Kunzli: percussion
Brooklyn Rider: Johnny Gandelsman and Colin Jacobsen: violins; Nicholas Cords: viola; Michael Nicolas: cello
Producers: Tom Huizenga, Beck Harlan; Creative Director: Bob Boilen; Audio Engineer: Josh Rogosin; Videographers: Morgan Noelle Smith, Bronson Arcuri, Beck Harlan, Kimani Oletu; Editor: Tsering Bista; Associate Producer: Bobby Carter; Photo: Amr Alfiky/NPR