Tiny Desk Concert winner Alisa Amador performs at NPR

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In front of the iconic shelves with “NPR” and “All Songs Considered” signs in white capital letters sitting on top, Alisa Amador stood with her eyes closed for a second. She took a deep breath, strummed her cream and gray guitar, and started the song that put her there, “Milonga Accidental.”

The 26-year-old singer from Cambridge, Mass., is the winner of this year’s NPR Tiny Desk Contest. This was Amador’s fifth time participating in the contest spun off from NPR’s hugely successful Tiny Desk Concert series.

“I remember talking to my manager about it a few months ago and saying, ‘Yeah, I don’t think I’ll send one. I did it four times, right? ‘” Amador said after the show. . But then an idea for a video came to her while she was half asleep a few days before the March deadline and she decided to enter with “Milonga”, her first try entirely in Spanish.

Her performance on Monday was Tiny Desk’s first gig at NPR’s NoMa headquarters since the pandemic began. There was palpable excitement among the 30 or so NPR employees who gathered near “All Songs Considered” host Bob Boilen’s office to watch Amador. The concert series that has spawned countless viral music moments had been forced to film performances for the past two years away from its unique setting, often the artists’ homes.

Amador sang his winning entry with the help of a string quartet. “Milonga” is a song about bicultural identities. In the chorus, Amador, who was born in Boston to Puerto Rican and Argentinian parents, asks when she’ll know her purpose and when her voice will feel like home: “Cuando sabré descifrar mi razón? / Cuando sensé mi hogar en mi voz? After the show, she said with a laugh, “And it seems so crazy that the answer to that question was at NPR.”

Amador let his voice play in the last 30 seconds of the song, the highlight of his winning video and the live version of the song. His voice was beautifully delicate, his riffs smooth like a ball of glass you’re afraid to break. She didn’t seem to tire at all for something that seemed so impressive.

After Amador’s first song, she put down her guitar, the string quartet came out, and her band joined her. She said she grew up on Latin folk music (her parents were touring musicians) but studied jazz, funk and rock, to name a few. Before starting her upbeat song “Timing,” she announced, “So now we’re going to the funky zone. Now I will dance!

And she did, and so did the rest of the room. Amador jumped up and down singing the standout line, “Why Am I Right Again?” She jumped back to help her teammate Jamie Oshima, who was on keyboards and guitar. She leaned over him and strummed the guitar and danced as Oshima smashed it on the keys. The audience was delighted, emitting gasps and audible screams.

Amador said this opportunity was more than a victory. “The Tiny Desk competition has always been this source of inspiration, connection and community,” she said. “At the end of the day, it’s just about the joy of music and its deep spiritual significance.”

She ended her concert on this note of community. Before she started singing “Together,” she acknowledged how difficult the pandemic has been for those simply looking for a connection. At the end of the song, she asked audience members to sing along with her. “Together, together, together,” they sang, as Amador lovingly conducted.

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