An Oakland musician whose soulful, bluesy twang beat out 7,000 other video entries took home NPR's Tiny Desk Concert Contest's inaugural title.
Xavier Dphrepaulezz, who performs as "Fantastic Negrito," sang "Lost in a Crowd" behind a steel desk – (performing behind a desk was a rule of the contest ) – to claim his 15 minutes of fame.
Dphrephaulezz was too swamped, he told NBC Bay Area via Twitter, to really discuss his win on Thursday, hours after his award was announced on the radio. But he did tell NPR that the name of his band comes out of a "love and fascination for black roots music of the early blues era."
"To me, it's a celebration of blackness," he told NPR Music. "'Fantastic' is self-explanatory. And the 'Negrito' is a way to open up blackness to everyone – make it playful, international. It's extremely positive in my view; it's my affair with this music. And it's like gold! I feel like it's something that everyone should know about."
Late last year, NPR Music "All Songs Considered" host Bob Boilen launched a contest to give an undiscovered band a chance to play behind his "Tiny Desk," perhaps the smallest concert venues in the world. Boilen's actual tiny desk is in Washington, D.C., and where many big names, including Adele, Cat Stevens and Macklemore, have performed.
Boilen wanted to see what great musical talent was out there in the world, and so the rules of the contest were that the musicians had to play behind a desk. Some hauled desks to the snow. Others to the beach. Boilen said Fantastic Negrito was chosen because he just loved how "raw" the sound was.
Last year, the group was listed on the "Crucial Local Music of 2014" in the East Bay Express. Sometimes, he just takes his group out to the streets. In November, he played on Broadway, where one viewer said on a YouTube video that he's a "blend between Otis Redding, James Brown and Lenny Kravtiz."
Fantastic Negrito's website says his band's music comes from being reborn after "going through a lot of awful s---." Raised as an orthodox Muslim, his family moved from Massachusetts to Oakland when he was 12. On his website, he talked about living in the "wild, vibrant" city of Oakland, then getting into a "near death" encounter in Los Angeles involving a masked gunman when he was 20, and being in a near fatal car accident that put him in a coma in 2000. Even today, he plays with a hand that was mutilated in that crash.
Now, back in Oakland, Dphrephaulezz says he is a person reborn, after getting married, planting vegetables, raising chickens and having a son, Kyu.
It was then, he wrote, that "all the creative energy Negrito bottled for years came rushing out."