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.

It's hard to imagine this quietly subtle performer belting out vocals in front of tens of thousands of fans as part of the wildly popular hip-hop group Calle 13. But Ileana Cabra, who performs solo as iLe, lives that kind of life.

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.


The first thing we must note about this album by the Hart Valley Drifters is that it is not the most authentic bluegrass or old-time music. This is not from a long-lost box of tapes found in a dusty closet, not performed by a group of master folk musicians from somewhere in Appalachia.

2016 has been particularly hard on music fans of all stripes.

This week, Alt.Latino takes a literary turn as we explore the world of Latino noir.

Good guys, bad guys and cops who are both; murder, intrigue and gallows humor; highly stylized writing — it's all there, as with any noir fiction. But these books and stories are written by Latinx authors.

I've always thought Nina Diaz was fierce.

"Go before it changes!"

I can't tell you how many times I have heard that charge since the thaw in relations between the U.S. and Cuba, which has prompted so many people to visit the island nation.

What feeling of freedom must accompany recording artists who don't use their real names when they write or perform music? Does a musical mask, a second personality, let them create a whole new persona? A way to react differently to the world? I remember one Halloween, I went to a costume party at a friend's office. I didn't know anyone there, and was wearing a costume that included a mask that completely covered my face. I'll never forget the complete freedom as my friend's office mates tried to figure out who I was.

Dizzy Gillespie once described Charlie Parker as the other half of his heartbeat. They were young men creating something from whole cloth, stretching the limits of their creativity and intellect every time they drew a breath together on the bandstand.

Gaby Moreno's Ilusión represents a high-water mark in a musical career that's never been predictable. It's one of the strongest statements I've heard from a musician who ignores boundaries and genre classifications to create a sound greater than the sum of its parts.

Rudy Van Gelder, an audio recording engineer who captured the sounds of many of jazz's landmark albums, died Thursday morning in his sleep. He was at his home studio in New Jersey, according to Maureen Sickler, his assistant engineer. He was 91.

When I first saw Nina Diaz back in 2010, she was fronting a punk trio from San Antonio called Girl In A Coma. She and the band sounded ferocious, with an unmistakable spirit of fun — for proof, here's their Tiny Desk concert from a couple years later.

For the Portland, Ore., band Y La Bamba, creativity and talent have combined and crystalized to form a unique sound. That sound is the sum of many individual musical experiences and influences, but it also reflects a shared vision. Most importantly, on the new Ojos Del Sol, it sounds as if the group is having a blast playing music.

When Jerry Garcia died unexpectedly in August 1995, his Grateful Dead bandmate Bob Weir went right back out on the road to deal with the loss of his friend.

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
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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.

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