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Nicolle Horbath sings about the pandemic with a bossa nova twist

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

You've probably heard many stories from musicians over the years about writing songs about the pandemic, but Tiny Desk Contest entrant Nicolle Horbath put a kind of bossa nova twist on what are usually more melancholy anthems for the COVID years. NPR's Ryan Benk has this profile.

(SOUNDBITE OF NICOLLE HORBATH SONG, "FLORECER")

RYAN BENK, BYLINE: Directly translated, the Spanish word florecer means to flourish. As the title of Nicolle Horbath's new single, its more accurate meaning is to bloom. The Miami-based musician started writing the song when it felt like the world she knew was wilting.

NICOLLE HORBATH: So I was in a moment where I couldn't find myself.

BENK: Horbath is originally from Barranquilla, Colombia. She was a student at the University of California, Berkeley, in March of 2020, when the world seemed to stop. Stuck in her tiny dorm room on campus, like most international students with no family in the States, she resisted the urge to just sit there, her nose pressed up against her window, dreaming of the outside world. Instead, Horbath looked inward and found a different feeling.

HORBATH: That feeling of I really need to water myself with good things. Even though what is outside is overwhelming, I need to water myself and take care of the inside so better things can bloom.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FLORECER")

HORBATH: (Singing in Spanish).

BENK: Her song "Florecer" spans two continents, melody and chords written in California, lyrics scrawled out on a bus from Bogota to Barranquilla, Colombia. The result is a breezy pick-me-up, perfect for easy summer listening - not at all something you'd expect to come from such trauma.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FLORECER")

HORBATH: (Singing in Spanish).

BENK: Nicolle Horbath says she didn't want to write something that would be a reminder of that very outward sadness. No, she says, at that time, what the world really needed was a reminder that happiness can start on the inside.

HORBATH: I was super sad all the time, and I felt really lonely. But I decided to transform those feelings into something positive. What this is is kind of a letter to myself as well. I think a lot of the songs that I write kind of come from a place where I am like a third person talking to myself and saying, everything is going to be OK.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FLORECER")

HORBATH: (Singing in Spanish).

BENK: Three years later, Horbath says she's been able to build a family of brilliant friends, many of whom are musicians, in Miami.

HORBATH: I don't feel alone anymore.

BENK: It's a natural place for her music. And she says her song "Florecer" is inspiring people in all kinds of ways unrelated to COVID or the pandemic blues.

HORBATH: One of my best friends sent me a message where she was saying, like, I just wanted to let you know that I had a very important interview for my career, and what kind of calmed me down and made me feel confident was your song "Florecer."

BENK: You can see Nicolle Horbath's Tiny Desk Contest submission on her YouTube channel.

Ryan Benk, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF NICOLLE HORBATH SONG, "FLORECER")

HORBATH: (Vocalizing). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.