The Best Latin Music Of 2013

Like so many music lovers, NPR's Felix Contreras and Jasmine Garsd have been hard at work compiling their best-of-2013 lists. From Los Angeles quartet La Santa Cecilia to Spanish rapper Mala Rodriguez, the Alt Latino hosts join NPR's Rachel Martin to share some of what they loved in Latin music this year.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Right now, the folks at NPR Music are busy compiling their annual end of the year lists. Our regular musical aficionados from NPR's Alt.Latino are here. Felix Contreras, Jasmine Garsd to share some of their favorite music from the year 2013. Welcome back to the show, guys.

FELIX CONTRERAS, BYLINE: Good morning. Thank you.

JASMINE GARSD, BYLINE: Thank you so much for having us.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NUESTRA SENORA LA REINA DE LOS ANGELES")

LA SANTA CECILIA: (Singing in foreign language)

MARTIN: And we've got music right off the bat. Who is that alluring vocalist?

CONTRERAS: That is the voice of La Marisol. She's from the band La Santa Cecilia. This is the track from their album "Trienta Dias," it's called "Nuestra Senora La Reina de Los Angeles."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NUESTRA SENORA LA REINA DE LOS ANGELES")

CECILIA: (Singing in foreign language)

CONTRERAS: And it was their year. It was a big year for them. They signed with a major label. They had lots of touring. They worked a lot. They had lots of attention, everything from indy weekly's to The Wall Street Journal, all the way to Alt.Latino of course.

MARTIN: Of course.

GARSD: I don't know. The last couple of years have been La Santa Cecilia's year. They're one of those bands that when you see them live it's even better than when you check out their record. They just have a wonderful presence and I'd really say a lot of that is La Marisol's voice - that voice is just killer.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NUESTRA SENORA LA REINA DE LOS ANGELES")

CECILIA: (Singing in foreign language)

MARTIN: Killer for sure. OK, that was Santa Cecilia and that as Felix's pick - one of your picks for 2013. Before we get to Jasmine's choices, you reached out to your listeners, right, for the music that they loved this year? What did they have to tell you?

GARSD: Our listeners this year had some really eclectic choices. I think one of my favorites of the listener choice this year was the Argentine singer Juana Molina. She had a new and very much anticipated album out. It was called "Wed 21." We did an amazing guest DJ with her. She's funny. She's a former comedian. And I brought a song by her called "El Oso De La Guarda" of "The Guardian Bear." It's really cool. This album actually has so much nature themes. And there's a lot of, like, bears and moths.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EL OSO DE LA GUARDA")

JUANA MOLINA: (Singing in foreign language)

MARTIN: Very cool, kind of a trance vibe.

GARSD: Oh, totally. Her music is very entrancing and the beats are really repetitive but not in a tiresome way, in a very hypnotic way.

CONTRERAS: I think what makes it trance-like for me is that, to my ear, I hear Philip Glass and Brian Eno - a lot of electronica, a lot of repetition. And she has tremendous crossover appeal because our friends at ALL SONGS CONSIDERED, Robin Hilton loves it. So she's getting to Latino audiences. She's going out all over the place.

MARTIN: OK.

CONTRERAS: Now we're going to change the mood just a little bit.

(SOUNDBITE OF A SONG, "TREINTA Y TRES")

LA MALA RODRIQUEZ: (Rapping foreign language)

MARTIN: OK, my mood has changed.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: It has officially changed.

GARSD: Are you a little angry now?

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: I feel angrier. Jasmine, this is your selection - defend yourself.

GARSD: No. Come on, man. This is like one of my favorite artists ever. This is La Mala Rodriquez, she's a rapper from Spain. She's one of the better-known rappers in Latin music. And she dropped this amazing album this year. It's called "Bruja." She is really associated with flamenco rap. She's from an area from southern Spain. And she - her vocals, her rapping style combines, like, flamenco-style vocals with hip-hop.

But before she did that, she used to do something called hardcore which was very popular in Spanish hip-hop. And it's that she used to growl like a heavy metal singer. And you can really hear that on this album.

(SOUNDBITE OF A SONG, "TREINTA Y TRES")

RODRIQUEZ: (Rapping foreign language)

GARSD: This is the song "Treinta Y Tres," "33", in which she talks about how cool is that she's getting older and wiser and more powerful.

CONTRERAS: Rap and hip-hop is not my...

GARSD: Sort of thing.

CONTRERAS: Yeah, it's not in my wheelhouse.

(LAUGHTER)

CONTRERAS: But through these Spanish rappers, like Mala Rodriquez and Ana Tijoux from Chile, I'm gaining an appreciation for the rhythm and flow, and the use of language and the creative use of language.

GARSD: I would also add to that, that I think some of the stuff that turns Felix off in English language mainstream rap, doesn't really happen in Spanish language rap. I mean in Spanish language rap, you don't hear a lot of, you know, materialism and sexual conquest. Spanish language rap has really picked up the torch of socially conscious artists. I mean I'd say overwhelmingly, Spanish language rappers have a very deep and thought-provoking message.

MARTIN: You two do have different styles and different musical preferences, shall we say? And you talk about that on your show.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: But I wonder if there was one singer who brought you two together this past year, who impressed both of you - opened both your eyes in a different way.

CONTRERAS: Yes, it was and I discovered her.

(LAUGHTER)

GARSD: No, stop. Wait. Oh, my God.

(LAUGHTER)

CONTRERAS: One of us discovered Irene Diaz. She's just amazing vocalist that put out her first EP finally this year that we heard her perform at the Latin Alternative Music Conference in New York back in July. And she brought the room to a standstill with just the power and the drama and the magnificence of her voice, accompanied just by ukulele. And I brought in a track that features that voice with the guitar. It's a title track from her EP. It's called "Love You Madly."

And, you know, I think we can both take credit, sort of.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Reluctantly, as she says.

CONTRERAS: Yeah, grudgingly.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOVE YOU MADLY")

IRENE DIAZ: (Singing) Baby, I've got you on my mind. My chemicals unwind with just the thought of you. Oh, you make me shine...

MARTIN: Just lovely. I don't blame both of you for trying to take credit of discovering her.

CONTRERAS: You know, looking back over the year, it's - she was, again, a highlight of so many things that happened this year. And we were listening to our friends at ALL SONGS CONSIDERED, the female vocal had a strong presence in country and pop, and some of the music that they listen to over there as well. So, and it happened over here for us, too.

MARTIN: Felix Contreras and Jasmine Garsd, they are the hosts of NPR's Alt.Latino. It's a weekly podcast about Latin Alternative music and Latino culture. Felix. Jasmine. Thanks so much, you guys. Happy holidays.

CONTRERAS: Thank you, same to you.

GARSD: Thank you so much for having us.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOVE YOU MADLY")

DIAZ: (Singing) I love you madly...

MARTIN: And you can hear more of the year's best music, as selected by Alt.Latino and the rest of our music team, at nprmusic.org.

And now a goodbye to our friend and colleague, senior producer of WEEKEND EDITION, Tom Bullock. He is moving on to new adventures in radio. It won't be the same here without you, Bullock. We wish you all the best.

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin.

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