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San Diego Musicians Vie For NPR Tiny Desk Fame

The logo for NPR's 2018 Tiny Desk contest.

Credit: NPR

Above: The logo for NPR's 2018 Tiny Desk contest.

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More than 40 amateur musicians from San Diego and Imperial Valley are hoping for a ticket to Washington, D.C. and NPR fame.

NPR’s Tiny Desk concerts have attracted performers from Adele to Chance the Rapper, putting on shows inside the newsroom. Since 2014, NPR has invited artists from around the country to enter its Tiny Desk Contest for a chance to join those ranks.

The New Orleans group Tank and the Bangas won last year’s contest, even though their video wasn’t the most polished.

“What won me over about the band's performance of ‘Quick’ were the interactions among lead singer Tarriona ‘Tank’ Ball and her bandmates and the way they seemed to surprise one another,” All Songs Considered host Bob Boilen wrote. “It all felt so organic and on-the-spot, just like the best Tiny Desk concerts.”

This year thousands of musical acts entered to be the next winner. Some of their videos are professionally produced; others are more stripped-down. The only rule is that the video has to include a desk — somewhere. The winner will be announced Tuesday.

In Michael Esten’s video, his eyes glow. That might be because the video was shot using the wireless camera he also relies on to monitor his cat.

The band MDRN History jam-packed its video with props including a rubber horse head with a beanie hat. Center stage is the band’s mascot, an 11-year-old dog named Bella which is short for Bellandranog-non Faltrooth Hemmingpurse. The pooch got a shout out from the All Songs Considered team in a round-up of their favorite pets in the submission videos.

A few of the musicians were inspired by recent news. Twin brothers Dean and Wes Primicias lead the band Be Mine Phantom Valentine. Dean’s day-job is as a psychologist at Murdock Elementary in La Mesa. Days after the Parkland school shooting in Florida, a social media post potentially threatened a school shooting at San Marcos High School. That’s the district where Dean’s children attend, so he kept them home. That same day he wrote, “Don’t Let Me Bullet.”

Roberto Villaneuva, the guitar player and co-songwriter for the alternative rock band Santapandora immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico in his teens. His niece Cassandra Childers is the group’s other songwriter. Their song, “Periphery,” was motivated by the political rhetoric around asylum seekers.

“We want everyone to take a step back and celebrate humanity, to have compassion for your fellow human beings, and to really think about those being lost on the periphery,” Villaneuva wrote in an e-mail.

Several bands have been recognized locally for their talent. The Routine was named best rock group at the 2015 San Diego Music Awards and was a finalist in the category this year. The band’s video was featured on NPR’s All Songs Considered blog as one of the top early submissions.

“You've probably never seen someone so successfully use a desk as a dancing partner until you see Bryan Barbarin spin, flip and sway with his,” NPR’s Jay Reed wrote about The Routine’s lead singer.

The band Sister Speak was nominated for best pop album at this year’s San Diego Music Awards, and won for best pop band last year. Frontwoman Sherri Anne filmed the group’s video in the Santa Monica mountains, surrounded by lush hills. Birds are chirping in the background as she plays next to a small foldable desk with the book “The Hidden Life of Trees” displayed on top.

Will Faerber may not have those accolades. His day job is a dressage horse trainer in Vista. But he made sure to include one key element in his video: some pandering to the judges.

“I want to say hi to all of our friends out there at NPR,” he said. “Keep doing what you’re doing. We love you baby, as they say.”

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