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Recent perfomances have achieved stratospheric numbers in pandemic times. PHOTO: NPR
Recent virtual perfomances have achieved stratospheric numbers amid the pandemic. Photo: NPR

Spectacular music programs to tune in to for Black History Month

NPR has become a pioneer of new music formats presenting programming that includes jazz, R&B and hip-hop to commemorate Black History Month.

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National Public Radio (NPR) is a Washington D.C.-based media conglomerate, including agencies such as the Associated Press and a host of radio stations from across the country. In 2008, it began a trailblazing run with Tiny Desk Concerts, a series of music performances hosted by Bob Boilen that has grown to have a library of 800 concerts and 2 billion views more than a decade later.

In recent weeks, there have been a number of shifts in the music industry towards streaming services, the emergence of new independent distributors, and the songs of great established artists turned into long-term investment funds. NPR's music section has been able to ride these changes with good music journalism and thanks to the success of its format on YouTube.

Recent performances have achieved stratospheric numbers amid the pandemic such as those from Lenny Kravitz, Billie Eilish, Dirty Projectors, Alicia Keys, and Jorja Smith to name a few.

Its commitment to black artists has been undeniable from the beginning, as evidenced by the programming.

Bobby Carter, in charge of the programming during Black History Month says: "Black music has always had a home at the Tiny Desk. As the series developed, our wonderful producers brought more hip hop and R&B artists to the Desk and challenged them to play within the format."

In the last two weeks, NPR has again adapted to the confining measures and transformed the shows in a small bookstore to home concerts — a perfect format for the streaming times. A Miley Cyrus concert posted four days ago already has 1.5 million views.

February's programming revolves around Black History Month, so Carter has selected three genres, although there could be many more so a fourth week may work its way in.

The jazz session on Feb. 2 features Melanie Charles, Immanuel Wilkins and Wynton Marsalis. Charles presents her more experimental side, also linked to soul and spirituality. Wilkins is a contemporary saxophone virtuoso, and Marsalis is already a legendary trumpet player with some of the most recognized albums over the decades.

The second week is dedicated to the genre that permeates most contemporary genres and it is impossible to escape its influence. Giveon rose to fame last year with his collaboration with Drake on "Chicago Freestyle" and is one of the young promises of the rap game.

On the other hand, Meshel Ndegeocello is already a recognized Berlin singer that has accumulated more than 10 Grammy nominations: her performance is considered neo soul and alternates with rap and funk, showing that new variations of these type of singers are totally eclectic. KeiyaA is another young artist that achieved great recognition for her album, Forever, Ya Girl, which perfectly embodies the new soul of Chicago.

The third week dedicated to rap may be the most spectacular considering the rise of urban music, which is actually a mix of trap, rap and Latin music, and because they bring a great figure like 2 Chainz, with more than six albums behind him that certify him as a rap heavyweight beyond Georgia.

Another big name on the bill is Rick Ross, who since 2006 has been representing the southern gangsta rap scene. However, always committed to new approaches, they will also count on Rae Khalil, with only two modest albums, Girldfriend and Fortheworld, and a promising voice.

The last series of performances will be on Feb. 22 and the style dance shows that they have hundreds of hidden performances. Bartees Strange is the pop artist that can easily jump from folk to arena-rock. Wizkid is a Nigerian singer who is probably one of the most successful African artists.

To finish, one of their best mixes, which already proved to work when they brought together Sting and Shaggy a year ago. This time we will see Zambian rapper Sampa The Great (Birds and the BEE9, The Return) with conductor Kirk Franklin, a well-known gospel figure with 16 Grammy awards.

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