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Tiny Desk Contest entrant Zhalarina on the paternal bond that inspired 'Lala'

Zhalarina entered the 2021 Tiny Desk Contest with her song "Lala."
Courtesy of the artist
Zhalarina entered the 2021 Tiny Desk Contest with her song "Lala."

This year's edition of the Tiny Desk Contest may have already crowned Neffy the winner, but NPR Music discovered thousands of talented artists during the process, and Weekend Edition is spotlighting some of those stand-out entries.

One of those entries was the song "Lala" by the artist Zhalarina, a powerful, a cappella rap song she describes as a love letter to her father, who was incarcerated at the time she wrote it. The term "Lala," Zhalarina says, comes from a phrase the artist's father used to say to her.

"There was a time, unfortunately, and it happened once where my dad sort of seemed like he wasn't in his body and I didn't know what was happening," she tells Weekend Edition's Scott Simon. "He realized that I realized it and explained in the quickest way that he could that he was just in 'La La Land.' Growing up, the irony of 'Lala' potentially being a drug ... I thought about that later."

Zhalarina says "Lala" has led to a lot of healing. And her father, who was released from prison in 2019, refers to it as their special song.

"He's like, I was listening to our song the other day," Zhalarina says. "My favorite thing about the song is that it has done exactly what I wanted it to do for my family ... My dad definitely cries every time he hears it, and I think it's sparked a lot of conversations that were difficult to have."

Listen to Scott Simon's interview with Zhalarina in the audio player above, and watch her 2021 Tiny Desk Contest entry.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Ned Wharton is a senior producer and music director for Weekend Edition.