It was surely a day of tears of joy. And those tears of joy for Alisa Amador, the winner of the 2022 Tiny Desk competition, came at a time when she was considering putting her music career on hold. For the staff at NPR and the Tiny Desk crew, this was our first Tiny Desk gig with an audience in over 800 days, and Alisa’s captivating music surely heightened our swirling emotions.
Alisa Amador kicked off with her contest-winning entry “Milonga Accidentelle,” a song about coming to terms with your contradictions. It’s a song that our judges – iLe, Big Krit, Michelle Zauner (of Japanese Breakfast), Raveena, Nate Chinen (of WBGO member station), Tiny Desk producer Bobby Carter and I – all found so passionate. I often fall in love with a song because of the lyrics, and this is the first Tiny Desk contest winner whose winning song is in Spanish. Despite the fact that I don’t speak Spanish, I felt the song’s conflict, desire and questioning.
Alisa grew up in Boston, Maine, Puerto Rico and Argentina, and was raised by Rosi and Brian Amador, her Latin folk musician parents who play in the group Sol y Canto; they were also present. She has been singing since the age of four and has been participating in the Tiny Desk competition every year since 2018. In fact, the song “Together”, which closes this concert, was a amazing entrance starting in 2020. For COVID safety, we limited the audience to a small group of masked NPR employees, but the vocals for the closing track were still powerful.
Alisa also put her winning song to a beautiful string arrangement performed by a quartet from Washington DC and rehearsed for the first time hours before the performance. The arrangements were originally done by Jamie Oshima after a recording session a few years ago and then Alisa’s friend Noah Fishman transcribed the arrangement. For the next three songs, she is joined by Jamie Oshima (guitar, keyboards), Noah Harrington (bass) and Jacob Thompson (drums, keyboards).
“When will I be able to decipher my purpose? / When will I feel at home in my voice?” As Alisa sings those words to her winning entry in Spanish at Tiny Desk, I think: Maybe that moment is now.
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