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KALW’s Local Favorites from the NPR Tiny Desk Contest

A colorful graphic with the words Tiny Desk Contest 2023 on it.
Entries for the 2023 Tiny Desk Contest opened on February 7, 2023.

The NPR Tiny Desk Contest is back! The search for standout unsigned musicians, all vying for the chance to perform at the iconic Tiny Desk, returned earlier this month and hundreds of entries have already been submitted. The winner will also headline the Tiny Desk Contest On The Road tour later this summer, which will be making a stop in San Francisco for the first time! Subscribe to theKALW Music newsletter to get updates.

Since Oakland happens to be home to the first-ever winner of the contest, Fantastic Negrito, we were particularly excited to go through the entries from the Bay Area to see if there was a chance we could bring the title home again. Want to enter your own video? Send it tonpr.org/tinydeskconcert. In the meantime, here were some of our favorite contenders.

Daniel Riera and Friends – My City is Burning

My City Is Burning

Shot in what looks like a very East Bay backyard, the submission from Daniel Riera and Friends builds anticipation from the get-go, the running-heartbeat percussive setting the tone for the ominous, but ultimately jammy, jazzy, Latiny tune. “I started writing this song during the last big California wildfire, but it quickly grew into something else, encompassing my anxieties about capitalism, the ecology and humanity's life out of balance,” wrote Daniel Reira in the description of the video for ‘My City is Burning’ on YouTube. ”It was a major catharsis recording this with my amazingly talented friends.”

Cameron Lush - Another Day

Another Day - Tiny Desk Entry 2023

There’s not much online about who Cameron Lush is except that he’s a “writer, producer, multi-instrumentalist, artist” based in San Francisco. From his entry, ‘Another Day’ you get Kid Cudi sing-rap vibes and heartbreak delivered over a positive down-tempo beat. The kind of stuff you want to dance and cry to. We’ll also give him points for being cheeky enough to put the Tiny Desk Concert opener at the beginning of his video.

Mantawoman - Aftershocks 

Mantawoman - "Aftershocks" | 2023 NPR Tiny Desk Contest Entry

Mantawoman starts their video entry by showing us their instrument. The yangqin (also known as a Chinese hammered dulcimer) could double as a desk and so, they argue, every concert they play is a Tiny Desk Concert. Technicalities aside, Mantawoman’s twist on heartbreak hits just right sung over the yangqin, which sounds like a mash-up of a harp, electric piano, and guitar. “We should break up more often if it means we get to feel like this,” they sing in the chorus. We agree.

Anaís Azul - Space to Cry 

Space to Cry - Anaís Azul (Tiny Desk Contest Entry 2023)

Anaís Azul sings in Spanish and English covering themes around queerness and mental health. The singer-songwriter and composer began arranging their own pieces at a Berkeley after-school music program. In their entry “Space to Cry,” we get a moody, quirky oompah song giving you permission to feel your feels in the style of Japanese Breakfast crossed with a touch of CocoRosie. Despite the sadness, the performance looks fun and everyone in the video looks like they’re enjoying themselves too.

Meli Levi - Look Inside 

Meli Levi - “Look Inside” (2023 Tiny Desk Contest Entry)

Meli Levi’s steady, polished voice is reminiscent of 90s singer-songwriters like Melissa Ethridge and Indigo Girls (she’s shared a stage with Amy Ray, a member of the band), so her song carries with it a sense of nostalgia while still feeling new. She has spent time studying meditation techniques in the California desert and this piece seems to reflect her rediscovery of the source of creativity. The round acoustics of the guitar make it lovely.


Watch all the entries for the 2023 NPR Tiny Desk Contest here.