From humble beginnings nearly 15 years ago as a niche online platform for rock and folk artists, NPR's Tiny Desk Concert series has blossomed into a major force in the music world. Founded by Bob Boilen and Stephen Thompson in 2008, the American show offers a unique format for showcasing some of the world’s biggest musicians. Artists from various genres, including acoustic duos, metal bands, and large ensembles, perform stripped-down sets in the show's dedicated space. The key rule: all instruments and equipment must fit within the limited area, eliminating the use of complex sound systems or elaborate effects. Here, we take a look at some of the most notable performances that featured MENA artists…

Yasmine Hamdan (Lebanon) NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert 2014

We open our list with the captivating Yasmine Hamdan. A renowned Lebanese singer-songwriter, she's also known for her work in the legendary indie pop duo Soapkills. In 2014, Hamdan graced the NPR Tiny Desk Concert with a unique performance. She delivered stripped-down, intimate renditions of three songs from her album 'Ya Nass'.

Mashrou' Leila (Lebanon) NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert 2016

Next is another iconic Lebanese group, the indie band Mashrou' Leila. Drawing from their acclaimed album ‘Ibn El Leil’, they delivered a powerful three-song set featuring ‘Maghawir’, ‘Kalam’, and ‘Djin’.

Rahim AlHaj (Iraq) NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert 2015

Legendary Iraqi musician and oud virtuoso Rahim AlHaj composes both traditional and contemporary pieces for a wide range of ensembles, from solo oud players to string quartets and even symphony orchestras. In this captivating Tiny Desk performance, AlHaj delivers a soul-stirring instrumental set featuring some of his signature compositions.

47SOUL (Jordan) NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert 2019

In 2019, Jordanian supergroup 47 SOUL stormed the NPR Tiny Desk stage, bringing their pioneering genre, Shamstep, to the forefront. Fusing reggae, dabke and dubstep, Pulsating with a unique energy, 47 SOUL delivered an electrifying three-song set, solidifying their place as one of the best Arabic performances ever featured on Tiny Desk.

Bedouin Burger (Lebanon) Tiny Desk (Home) Concert 2021

Capping off our list is Bedouin Burger. During the global COVID-19 lockdown, NPR partnered with globalFEST to host virtual Tiny Desk concerts. The acclaimed Arabic duo, Bedouin Burger, featuring the legendary musician Zeid Hamdan and Syrian artist Lynn Adib, recreated the signature Tiny Desk setting for a unique and soulful performance of some of their tracks.

Alsarah & the Nubatones (Sudan) NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert 2016

  In a captivating session in 2016, Alsarah & the Nubatones brought their vibrant blend of East African beats and traditional Sudanese music to NPR's Tiny Desk. Alsarah, the charismatic frontwoman, alongside her brother and Oud player, Nahid, with bassist Mawuena Kodjovi, and percussionist Rami El Aasser, performed a three-song set that encapsulated their "East-African retro-pop" style. Their performance, which included tracks from their album "Manara," highlighted their unique ability to blend traditional Sudanese songs with modern influences, creating a culturally rich experience.

Tinariwen (Sahara) NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert (2012)

Tinariwen, a group of Tuareg musicians from the Sahara Desert region of northern Mali, delivered an enthralling performance at NPR's Tiny Desk in 2012. Known for their guitar-driven music and soul-stirring melodies, Tinariwen's music speaks of the struggles and the rich cultural heritage of the Tuareg people. The group, dressed in traditional attire and armed with their acoustic guitars, played a set that included some of their most profound songs, providing a window into their nomadic lifestyle and the haunting beauty of the Saharan musical landscape.

Souad Massi (Algeria) NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert (2012)

Algerian singer-songwriter Souad Massi, known for her unique blend of folk, rock, and traditional Arabic music, graced the NPR Tiny Desk with her presence in 2012. With guitar in hand, Massi delivered a passionate and intimate performance, showcasing her delicate vocal ability and prowess as a guitarist. Her set included selections from her then-latest album, illustrating her poetic approach to songwriting and her ability to convey deep emotional truths. Massi's music, often introspective and deeply lyrical, resonated with themes of love, longing, and political turmoil.