Watch Santigold channel her punk roots in NPR ‘Tiny Desk’ concert

Santigold performing for NPR’s ‘Tiny Desk’. Source: NPR via YouTube

Santigold (aka Santi White) threw back to her punk roots for the latest edition of NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert series, performing with a full band to reinvent tracks from her solo catalogue, as well as one from Stiffed, the band she fronted before being known as Santigold.

Eschewing her usual setup of electronic backing tracks and dancers, White performed with a three-piece band – featuring guitarist Ray Brady, bassist George Lewis, Jr. (aka Twin Shadow) and drummer Chuck Treece – as well as backing vocalists Melanie Nyema and Stephany Mora. Treece’s inclusion is significant because, as White noted early in the performance, he was instrumental in her musical beginnings.

“Chuck Treece here is a legend,” White said after she and her band performed a bold and swaggering rendition of her 2008 single ‘L.E.S. Artistes’. “He is, first of all, the person that got me to sing. I was doing more songwriting in the beginning, and then I was like, ‘Chuck, you know, I really want to make music that sounds like what I hear in my head, and the only way to do it is to do it myself…’

“So Chuck was not only one of the first Black pro skateboarders, he had a band, McRad, which was a punk band. He played with Bad Brains – he introduced me to Bad Brains, I’m pretty sure, who I actually went on to do one of my first tours with when I first started performing, which I was not ready [for].”

White went on to say it was “a fucking miracle” that she was able to perform with Lewis, noting that their partnership is particularly special “for us Black musicians who try to do stuff that’s not what [is] considered Black music”.

With her band, White performed four of her own songs songs – two from her eponymous 2008 debut (including ‘I’m A Lady’ in addition to ‘L.E.S. Artistes’) and two from her recent fourth album, ‘Spirituals’ (‘Shake’ and ‘Fall First’) – as well as the Stiffed song ‘Ain’t Got Enough’.

A ska, no-wave and hardcore punk band, Stiffed was the first project White performed with (alongside Treece), and ‘Ain’t Got Enough’ appeared on their sole studio album, 2005’s ‘Burned Again’.

On the overall significance of performing with a band – and returning to her roots by ending her set on a Stiffed song – White said: “Punk rock is very special to me. We’re not doing a full punk set – we’ll do some punk songs – and I just think [punk is] really important right now.

“The most important thing … about punk is that you make your own rules, right? And I think right now, more than any time in the world – when the systems are broken – we have to be able to make our own rules and make changes; change things that we know aren’t working, and stand up when things are wrong, and scream it out. And that’s what punk music has always done.

“And punk is raw, right? So there’s no social media perfection, this and this and that, like, we need to go back to the truth – and punk was telling the truth. And showing up. I know I’ve got a whole outfit on today, but you know, I was saying [earlier], ‘Man, Chuck, remember? No makeup, no outfit, no hairdo – you just rolled up to your show!’ I missed that so much.”

Watch the full set below:

‘Spirituals’, White’s fourth album as Santigold, arrived back in September. It’s been supported with six single releases, including ‘High Priestess’ and ‘Ain’t Ready’.

In a four-star review, NME’s Mark Beaumont wrote that the album “gets more brutalist as it goes on, weaving its way from tropical space-pop through cosmic reggae to the gothic R&B cranks and coils of ‘Ain’t Ready’ and, finally, to ‘Fail First’, a wonderfully New Order-ish concoction of indietronic chug, industrial grunge guitars, spectral cheerleader chants and punkoid yells”.

White was due to promote the ‘Spirituals’ with a lengthy ‘Holified’ tour of North America. The run was cancelled weeks out from kicking off, though, with the artist citing difficulties with inflation and the changing landscape of post-pandemic touring.

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