Felix Contreras

Felix Contreras is co-host of Alt.Latino, NPR's web-based program about Latin Alternative music and Latino culture. It features music as well as interviews with many of the most well-known Latino musicians, actors, film makers and writers.

Previously, Contreras was a producer and reporter for NPR's Arts Desk and covered, among other stories and projects: a series reported from Mexico introducing the then-new musical movement called Latin Alternative; a series of stories on the financial challenges facing aging jazz musicians; and helped produce NPR's award winning series 50 Great Voices.

He once stood on the stage of the legendary jazz club The Village Vanguard after interviewing the club's owner and swears he felt the spirits of Coltrane and Monk walking through the room.

Contreras is a recovering television journalist who has worked for both NBC and Univision. He's also a part-time musician who plays Afro-Cuban percussion with various jazz and Latin bands.

Jane Bunnett knows a few things about Cuban music. She and her husband, trumpeter Larry Kramer, have been traveling to the island from their home base of Toronto for more than 30 years. They've collaborated with musicians there, as well as back home in Canada and on tours around the globe.

It's often a challenge to find enough inspiration to get out of bed in the morning, let alone try to craft any kind of lasting creative expression. So it's hard to fathom what it's like for guitarist Jeff Beck to go to the well for more than 50 years and still achieve something creative. But he's been able to accomplish just that on his new album, Loud Hailer.

Sometimes it's necessary to get back to basics. In the case of Los Hacheros, that means returning to the deep groove of Afro-Caribbean music that provides the source material for modern salsa and all of its permutations.

Alt.Latino's Puerto Rican Deep Cuts

Jul 2, 2016
Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Together, saxophonist Charles Lloyd and pianist Jason Moran make jazz that draws from the past while looking to the future. Lloyd's body of work stretches back to the mid-1960s, and has always shown a disregard for boundaries and cliches. He seems determined to work through the later part of his career with artistically and spiritually motivated playing that simply astounds.

This week, Alt.Latino takes a musical journey across the U.S. on the hunt for Latin Alternative music in places where you wouldn't expect to find it.

It's fair to expect these musicians would reside amidst Latino populations in large urban centers. But this week, we travel with D.C. music agent Luis Ayala to discover that Latin rock, funk and hip-hop bands are popping up in other cities and towns that are experiencing major growth in the Latino populations. As these communities mature, vibrant local Latin music scenes are popping up in their wake.

Carrie Rodriguez has been many things: a classically trained violinist turned American fiddler, a duet partner to veteran songwriter Chip Taylor, a successful and popular solo artist in her own right. On occasion, those roles have allowed her Mexican-American roots to bubble to the surface — perhaps in a line sung in Spanish, or through a reference to a classic mariachi song.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify playlist at the bottom of the page.

Ralph J. Gleason is my hero.

It's impossible to put an exact date on it, but I think I started reading his column in Rolling Stone in the summer of 1973. I was 14 years old and already immersed in music. Reading him, I discovered you could write about music and get paid for it — and then I discovered his writing was just as immersive as the music we both loved.

Those of us "of a certain age" have always been told to be true to ourselves, with the understanding that maturity will show us a better sense of our true selves. The hope is that we can move forward and look backward with both confidence and (hopefully) not a lot of regret.

But musicians of a certain age are often better off if they resist the tried-and-true and look for something new to stretch their sense of self. They rely on a body of work to inspire yet more growth; that way, their sound changes while still feeling familiar.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify playlist at the bottom of the page.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify playlist at the bottom of the page.

When singer-guitarist Susan Tedeschi sings and plays, you can hear the sound move from the Mississippi Delta up to Chicago. As this video shows, she can dispense uptempo dance grooves and coax her voice around the anguished lyric of the blues.

Sometimes if feels as if the crowds at Stubb's BBQ during SXSW are just too cool to dance. But not tonight. Southern California's Chicano Batman sent waves of velvet-sounding Chicano soul out over the audience at Stubb's — think 1970s-era guitar and organ funk played by a band outfitted in quicenera tuxedos. When the band shifted into a high energy cumbia I saw spontaneous dancing breaking out on the dirt floor of the outdoor venue.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify playlist at the bottom of the page.


In my mind, there's a magical Mexican restaurant located somewhere in Austin, Texas; it's a place where people of all cultures, backgrounds, ages and languages rub elbows over mouthwatering Tex-Mex combination plates. Aging hippies, Chicano hipsters, old-school Texans in cowboy hats, abuelitas, blues musicians, Western fiddlers — they're all there.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify playlist at the bottom of the page.


It's hard to keep a good idea down. In 1996, Richard Blair and Sidestepper introduced their innovative mix of Afro-Colombian and pop music to a Colombian scene that was about to explode onto the world stage.

Mariachi Flor de Toloache's 2014 self-titled debut album earned a Latin Grammy nomination in the Best Ranchera category — quite an accomplishment, given that the category celebrates an incredibly long tradition of Mexican music. But it was no fluke: The group's members come by their mariachi skills honestly and with endless practice, while still looking for ways to take chances.

Note: NPR's audio for First Listens comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify playlist at the bottom of the page.


You either get The Grateful Dead or you don't, to the point where it's virtually impossible to explain. So why bother?

Note: NPR's audio for First Listens comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify playlist at the bottom of the page.


Carla Morrison's music exists in a private emotional space where she can address joys, heartbreaks and secret desires. But her words also speak to larger pursuits in life: family, career, child-rearing, friendship, lifelong relationships. There are lessons in her delicate voice if you listen for the deeper meanings.

Note: NPR's audio for First Listens comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify playlist at the bottom of the page.


Grupo Fantasma's raucous, good-time mix of funk, cumbia and soul emerged from the clubs of Austin at the start of the century, bringing with it a fresh sensibility for Tejano music. Now, the band faces a challenge: How do you make that great idea even better?

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

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