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Meet Linda Diaz, The Winner Of The 2020 Tiny Desk Contest

Aug 5, 2020
Originally published on August 4, 2020 5:36 pm

We have a winner! For the 2020 Tiny Desk Contest from NPR Music, our all-star team of judges reviewed more than 6,000 entries from across the U.S. and chose Linda Diaz, who submitted the song "Green Tea Ice Cream."

Linda Diaz is a native New Yorker who grew up in Manhattan's Lower East Side and makes dreamy R&B anchored by her skilled and soulful voice. In her Contest entry video, filmed with a cast of friends in February, Diaz makes a case for slowing down with both her song's message and its laid back beat. "Do you even know what you're working toward? / Slow down / You're burning out," she sings.

Diaz says "Green Tea Ice Cream" came out of a difficult period of her life. In a short span of time, her grandfather died, she got broken up with and she lost her job. "I think this song was a realization that I had an opportunity to build something new and if I was going to do that," she says, "I needed to be honest with myself about what I value and what I love and what I need in my life."

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Diaz says centering the experience of joy, even when she's in pain, is an intentional choice that she makes with her music and when dealing with difficulty, asking herself: "How do I want to move forward?"

"If you're going through something difficult, no matter how little or much you have, you always have yourself and you always have your values and you always have your morals," she says. "So how can you lead your life in a way that best aligns with that so that you're successful by your own standards?"

Diaz also reiterates something she told NPR Music's Sidney Madden earlier this year, that "Black joy is radical."

"I do think it is a radical thing to be like, 'I'm happy and I'm focusing on my joy and I'm focusing on my purpose and I'm not necessarily focusing on an audience or what other people want from me,' " she says. "But truly, I am recognizing the things in my life that are good, and many of those things are coming from my community. I think in that way, it's super radical to love yourself as a Black person in this time."

Diaz joins an impressive cohort of past Tiny Desk Contest winners — which include Grammy award winners and festival headliners among them — but she's winning the Tiny Desk Contest at an unusual time. Performances at the Tiny Desk have been on hold since the coronavirus shut down NPR offices in March, but when she does get a chance to stop by, it won't be for the first time. Diaz actually made an appearance at the Tiny Desk last year, as a backup singer for Jordan Rakei.

In the meantime, Linda Diaz and her band are putting together a socially-distanced video for NPR Music's Tiny Desk (home) concert series. Although she doesn't want to give away too much, she says she's "really excited to do something creative."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

We have a winner in the 2020 Tiny Desk Contest from NPR Music. Our all-star team of judges reviewed more than 6,000 entries from across the U.S., and they chose Linda Diaz, who submitted this song, "Green Tea Ice Cream."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GREEN TEA ICE CREAM")

LINDA DIAZ: (Singing) Cherries in the spring, long walks, long nights, green tea ice cream - it's all so good, so good, so good to me.

SHAPIRO: And Linda Diaz joins us now from Brooklyn.

Welcome, and congratulations.

DIAZ: Thank you so much, Ari.

SHAPIRO: OK, so just - what's today been like for you since it was announced this morning?

DIAZ: (Laughter) A lot of emails, text messages, phone calls. I had to turn my phone on do not disturb, which is not a slight to anybody. But I...

(LAUGHTER)

DIAZ: It's been overwhelming but in the best of ways.

SHAPIRO: Give us the backstory to this song.

DIAZ: I wrote this song a while ago, like, a little over a year ago now. And it came at a time wherein I was just starting over. My grandfather passed away, and we were super-close. We shared a birthday.

SHAPIRO: Oh, I'm sorry.

DIAZ: In that year, I had a lot of wonderful things happen. Like, I got this really great job, and I was dating somebody new. But all of that kind of came crashing down at the same time. Like, my boyfriend broke up with me. And then I went to work the next day, and I got fired from work. So (laughter)...

SHAPIRO: Wow.

DIAZ: At the moment, it felt like everything was being taken away from me. But I think this song was a realization that, like, I had an opportunity to build something new. And if I was going to do that, I needed to be honest with myself about what I value and what I love and what I need in my life.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GREEN TEA ICE CREAM")

DIAZ: (Singing) Like how can I...

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) How do I manage expectations...

DIAZ: (Singing) While I...

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) ...While I manifest my greatness?

DIAZ: (Singing) Can you tell me...

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) Just how long I will be waiting?

SHAPIRO: Even though this song came out of a tough time in your life, it lists things you love. It feels like a song of joy - I mean, cherries in the spring, writing letters to old friends. Tell me about making that choice to sing about joy when you're feeling pain.

DIAZ: Well, I think it's an intentional choice that I make about my music. Something that has been healthy - a little unhealthy - is when I'm dealing with difficult things, I think oftentimes I'm like, OK, well, there's nothing I can do to change what happened. So how do I want to move forward? Obviously, I think that there's a lot to be said for sitting in your emotions, and I did a lot of sitting in my emotions before I wrote this song. But I also wanted my fans to hear, you know, like, if you're going through something difficult, no matter, like, how little or how much you have, you always have yourself. And you always have your values, and you always have your morals. And so how can you lead your life in a way that best aligns with that so that you're successful, like, by your own standards, you know?

SHAPIRO: You told our colleague at NPR Music Sidney Madden Black joy is radical. And this song seems to be an expression of that.

DIAZ: Definitely. I think especially now, I do think that it is a radical thing to do to be like, you know, I'm happy. And I'm focusing on my joy, and I'm focusing on my purpose, and I'm not necessarily focusing on an audience or what other people want for me. I think in that way, it is super-radical to both love yourself as a Black person in this time but also just, like, loving other Black people and, like, finding your community in that and finding your joy in other Black people.

SHAPIRO: You submitted your entry early in the contest, so you've got a full band in the room with you. There's six of you. Can you tell us about your bandmates?

DIAZ: Yes. I guess I'll just start off by saying that all my bandmates are my friends. I've played individually with all of them, but this was the first time we were playing together as a group. And...

SHAPIRO: Wait. Really? This is...

DIAZ: Yeah.

SHAPIRO: ...The first time that you all...

DIAZ: The first time.

SHAPIRO: ...Played together as a band?

DIAZ: Yeah.

SHAPIRO: That's wild.

DIAZ: (Laughter) I mean, they're such incredible musicians. I'm so lucky to know so many incredible musicians, and I think that's a big part of it. Like, so many of us, myself included, have experienced playing in many different band formations, you know, like, in many different positions. Everyone in the band has other projects that they're working on. They have their whole other careers.

SHAPIRO: You know, past winners of the Tiny Desk Contest have gone on to be major headliners. They've won Grammys. Does this moment feel like a reassurance that you are where you're supposed to be?

DIAZ: Definitely. I (laughter) - like, so much that when you asked me that, it hit me.

(LAUGHTER)

DIAZ: I think this is my first big moment in music. And I've had big moments as a person - you know, putting out my first EP, performing at my first, like, big venue and, like, performing my original music with - accompanying myself. You know, like, I've had big moments for myself. But I think that this is, like, a public acknowledgement also from NPR and NPR Music, which I love. And so I just think, like, this team of people specifically acknowledging my musicianship means a lot to me at this stage of my career especially.

SHAPIRO: Well, we're so happy to be part of this moment with you.

Congratulations, Linda Diaz, on winning this year's Tiny Desk Contest.

DIAZ: Thank you. Thank you so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GREEN TEA ICE CREAM")

DIAZ: (Singing) It's easy to feel like you don't matter when you are...

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) You are...

DIAZ: (Singing) ...What you make and nothing more. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.