Los Angeles’ Naia Izumi Wins NPR Music’s 2018 Tiny Desk Contest

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NPR Music is proud to introduce Naia Izumi of Los Angeles, California, as the winning artist of the 2018 Tiny Desk Contest

Naia Izumi was selected as the winning performance from thousands of submissions from all 50 states. Watch the winning entry featuring his original song “Soft Spoken” in the video above.

“Naia Izumi’s electric guitar artistry is somewhere between the growling tones of Jimi Hendrix while at the same time having the rhythm and melodic prowess of someone playing an African kalimba,” said host and creator of All Songs Considered, Bob Boilen. “He has a tenderness to his voice that feels both aged and innocent with a talent that is bubbling and ready to blossom.”

The Georgia native describes himself as a guitarist, singer-songwriter and producer who was born with “a sound in his heart yearning to be expressed.”

The early years of Naia’s musical journey were marked by moments of adversity, which he was able to overcome thanks to determination, an electric guitar given to him by a friend and the encouragement of a songwriting instructor at a small startup music school in Tennessee.

He spent time in a local recording studio where he was exposed to lifelong musicians who helped fine-tune his sound. A relationship then took him across the country to California where he used the streets of Los Angeles as a stage to start performing.

“My time in Los Angeles had its own ups and downs,” Izumi said. “My identity has been a common theme throughout my musical and personal development. My guitar and these strings have always been the constant during my transitions.”

“Earning the top spot in the Contest means a chance to showcase my art form for a whole new audience,” he adds. “I’m looking forward to taking what I’ve learned from my street performances and applying it to stages around the country. I’m excited!”

This year, NPR Music tapped legendary Tiny Desk alumni to judge the contest. Melodic pop duo Sylvan Esso and genre-smashing singer-songwriter Gaby Moreno reviewed submissions to find artists they loved. They were joined by Tarriona “Tank” Ball of 2017 Tiny Desk Contest winner Tank and the Bangas.

“He has an undeniable talent,” adds first-time Contest judge Gaby Moreno. “I was captivated by Naia’s soulful voice, and the way he takes a unique approach to his virtuosic level of talent on guitar.”

The judging panel was rounded out by three NPR Member station hosts including World Cafe host Talia Schlanger from WXPN in Philadelphia, hip-hop DJ, musician, and host Toki Wright of The Current in Minneapolis, and New York City’s WFUV Music Director Russ Borris. NPR Music’s Bob Boilen continues his fourth year as a judge. He was joined by All Songs Considered producer and co-host Robin Hilton.

“The fact that Naia Izumi’s solo performance captivated the judging panel, out of a sea of big bands and flashy videos, says something powerful about what a singular talent we have on our hands,” said Talia Schlanger. “Naia’s remarkable creativity on the guitar, solid songwriting and gentle yet powerful charisma made me proud to root for him as our winner!”

For the fourth year, Lagunitas Brewing Company has provided exclusive support for the Tiny Desk Contest.

Along with newfound national exposure, Naia Izumi will record a set at NPR Music’s iconic Tiny Desk space, to be released in early May as part of the popular video series.

For the first time in the Contest history, the victory tour will be kicked off with a performance in NPR’s Studio 1 in Washington, D.C, on Monday, May 7, in collaboration with NPR Member station WAMU. Tickets for Naia Izumi’s first live performance as the winning act will be available starting tomorrow at 12PM EST on

Naia Izumi will also perform at a live taping of NPR’s Ask Me Another, and will go on a U.S. tour with NPR Music, NPR Member stations and Lagunitas as part of the Tiny Desk Contest On The Road live event series. Naia Izumi will perform with local Contest entrants at at Lagunitas Taprooms in Chicago, IL (WBEZ) and Petaluma, CA (KQED, KRCB) and at venues in Washington, DC (WAMU); Seattle, WA (KEXP); New York, NY (WFUV); Philadelphia, PA (WXPN); Denver, CO (Colorado Public Radio, The Colorado Sound); Minneapolis, MN (The Current).

Since its launch in 2008, more than 700 performances have been recorded at the Tiny Desk—Boilen’s festive workspace at NPR Headquarters, adorned with years of music mementos and memorabilia. The series has provided a stage for artists from across the genre spectrum and at every phase of their careers — pop balladeer Adele, R&B sensation T-Pain, hip-hop star Chance the Rapper, country singer Maren Morris, astounding pianist and composer Daniil Trifonov, veteran jazz percussionist Nate Smith and even actor (and talented banjo player) Steve Martin.

About NPR Music

For more than a decade, NPR Music’s robust music journalism and award-winning original video programming has delighted millions of music fans from all genres. NPR Music collaborates with NPR’s newsmagazines, public radio Member stations and the passionate listener community to celebrate exceptional music and discover emerging artists. Visit to find the complete Tiny Desk concert series, live music, extensive archives of performances, interviews and music reviews. Connect with NPR Music on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.