Ranking: Nigerian Artists On NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert

Posted on

Earlier this month, Naira Marley’s Tiny Desk performance created a buzz on Twitter. As part of the NPR Music Black Music month celebration, Naira Marley was slated to perform alongside other international stars including Adekunle Gold, Maverick City Music, Usher, Monica, James Francies, Denzel Curry, FKA Twigs, Ravyn Lenae, J’nai Bridges and Larry June. 

Naira Marley’s set opened with a performance of Ayewada from his 2022 album God’s Timing’s The Best, which was followed by his hit song Soapy. He was then joined by Marlian Records signee Zinoleesky as they both performed O’dun and finally wrapped up the set with Montego Bay

Once social media got wind of Naira’s performance, the backlash that followed was unrivaled. Many people were of the opinion that his performance was “a mess” and a “waste of time.”



Others criticised Naira Marley for his lewd lyrics and opined he had no business being on Tiny Desk.

Triggered by Naira’s not-so-great performance, we took a look at all the Tiny Desk performances by Nigerian artists and ranked them from — not the best to the best. Let’s get into it! 

7. Naira Marley

Beginning with the most recent and the most critiqued, Naira Marley’s Tiny Desk performance lacked any element of preparation and was very haphazardly conducted. Even though the Zinoleesky cameo was a nice touch, it was clear that the performance lacked adequate rehearsals and Naira just went with the vibe.

6. Davido

Taking a simple approach, Davido sets up a makeshift band in what appears to be his home. His effort shines through in his performance, but there is an obvious disconnect with his backup singers. As part of the 2021 Black History month celebration, Davido begins his set with Gobe followed by a not-so-smooth transition to the throwback Aye before jumping into Risky and bringing the show to a close with Jowo.


5. Fireboy

Fireboy is quick with his 3-song performance, leading with the gently paced Like I Do. One thing that is obviously lacking in his performance is a backup singer, and even though the accompanying band pulls their weight, it is clear that his lead lacks the support of a vocalist. He performs the very sensual Tattoo before kicking things up a notch with Peru.


4. Adekunle Gold

Featured as one of the artists for NPR music month, Adekunle Gold’s set sits against the backdrop of a retro, faux airport terminal. He opens the show with a soulful rendition of Sinner. The tempo picks up as he transitions to Something Different, then One Woman and finishes with Okay. Adekunle Gold’s performance is reminiscent of a smooth flight, slowing down and speeding up in all the right places. 


3. Burna Boy

One of the first Nigerian artists to feature on the Tiny Desk concert, Burna Boy does not disappoint as he puts on a show. Beginning with Gbona The African Giant segues into Wetin Man Go Do, followed by Dangote and finally, the 2018 banger Ye. Burna Boy has nothing to prove in this performance as he exudes the confidence of one who has mastered his craft.


2. Tiwa Savage

In the wake of the Coronavirus, Tiwa Savage sets up in the picturesque Jazzhole reminiscent of the performance cubicle at the NPR HQ. She begins her thrilling set with Dangerous Love, and moves to Attention. Backed by the Alternative sound band, Tiwa delivers an outstanding performance of Like before finishing her set with her hit track Koroba.


1. Tems

From the setting to the delivery, Tems’ performance embodies the very essence of  Tiny Desk — intimacy. Her set begins with Found, then she breezes to Free Mind. Tems plays on nostalgia as she takes us back to one of her earliest releases, Looku Looku and speeds up the tempo with Replay before wrapping it up with a stellar performance of Damages. The thought and preparation that goes into this stellar performance is clear as day, a reminder of her talent and vocal prowess.