I was thrilled to have the gifted voice of Tamino gracing the Tiny Desk. But as charged as I was, that didn’t match the excitement that Colin Greenwood expressed as we rode up the elevator. The Radiohead bassist (and bassist for this special performance) shared a brief text exchange with his son, basically telling his hugely accomplished dad that playing the Tiny Desk was “the coolest thing he’d ever done!” That made us all smile.
The attraction that brought Colin Greenwood and these other musicians to bond with Tamino, a young singer of Belgian, Egyptian, and Lebanese descent, is his voice; it’s inescapable. For me a reference point is Jeff Buckley; they both have a way of soaring into the upper registers and into the ether; it’s stunning. I first heard Tamino perform live at a convention center in Austin; he transformed and transcended the relatively soulless space.
The songs performed at the Tiny Desk by the 22-year-old singer come from both a 2018 EP titled Habibi and later that year an album titled Amir. His use of that falsetto had some faces in the NPR audience gasping in astonishment. There’s a yearning in Tamino’s songs that I don’t often hear in popular music — he makes every vowel count. There’s nothing casual about his expressions, whether he’s singing about a sweetheart in the song “Habibi” or despair turned to joy in “Indigo Night.”
Some of the inspiration for Tamino’s approach comes from his heritage and in particular his grandfather Muharram Fouad, a well-known Egyptian singer known as “The Sound of the Nile.” It was his late grandfather’s old guitar that Tamino had first played. He got to know his grandfather’s music through his cassettes. Tamino would later incorporate what he heard into his songs. It’s ageless music that Tamino makes — it’s melodies feel well worn, but it’s also vibrant and intoxicating.
- “Indigo Night”
Tamino: vocals, guitar; Colin Greenwood: bass; Ruben Vanhoutte: drums; Vik Hardy: piano, vocals;
Producers: Bob Boilen, Morgan Noelle Smith; Creative Director: Bob Boilen; Audio Engineer: Josh Rogosin; Videographers: Morgan Noelle Smith, Kara Frame, Bronson Arcuri; Associate Producer: Bobby Carter; Production Assistant: Paul Georgoulis; Photo: Shuran Huang/NPR