Alt.Latino: Cumbia Tracks With Surf Guitars And Theramin

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Felix Contreras and Jasmine Garsd of NPR's Alt.Latino spin some cumbia tracks for NPR's Rachel Martin.



We are raising the energy level a little bit this morning with cumbia, old-school cumbia. It's a track brought in by our friends at Alt.Latino, NPR Music's show about Latin music.

Once a month, show hosts Felix Contreras and Jasmine Garsd bring in new music. And this month, we did something a little different. They let me choose the music from a bunch that they sent me. This was really exciting for me, you guys, to have homework. I felt this big weight of responsibility, but thanks. Hopefully I chose good stuff.

FELIX CONTRERAS, BYLINE: (Laughter) You can't go wrong.

MARTIN: You think?

CONTRERAS: Yeah, I think so.

MARTIN: Felix and Jasmine, thanks so much for being with us.

CONTRERAS: Thank you.

JASMINE GARSD, BYLINE: Always so much fun.

MARTIN: So that very first piece of music - Felix, why don't you introduce that.

CONTRERAS: OK. That is called "Serenata Guajira." And it's by a group called Sonido Gallo Negro. They're from Mexico City. They went from being a local underground hit to traveling the world doing instrumental Cumbia. And I really like these guys. They have a special touch with mixing in psychedelic surf guitar, the farfisa organ, and a theremin.

MARTIN: I heard this and immediately, I conjured up this image of, like, the Addams family's...

GARSD: Oh, my God.

MARTIN: ...TV show 1950, '60...

GARSD: Oh, my God, Rachel.

MARTIN: ...But Latin style.

GARSD: I did the same thing.

MARTIN: You did?

GARSD: I heard it, and I was like, this is very, like, Dracula does cumbia.

MARTIN: Yes, exactly.

CONTRERAS: (Laughter).

MARTIN: It is. Ned, can you play it again?


CONTRERAS: (Laughter).

MARTIN: Right?

GARSD: It's very like, I'm going to suck your blood and do a two-step.

CONTRERAS: (Laughter).


GARSD: Rachel, I also sent you several musical possibilities. And which one did you pick?

MARTIN: First up, I picked a track called "Mextasis." Is that right?

GARSD: "Mextasis."

MARTIN: "Mextasis."

GARSD: Like, I'm in Mextasy.


MARTIN: This is just a flat out sexy song.

GARSD: Oh, my God. I've been listening to this all week, and I kept thinking, if she doesn't pick this, I don't know what I'm going to do.


GARSD: "Mextasis" is a song by a rapper called Simpson Ahuevo. Now Felix, how do you explain what ahuevo means? It means, like, hell yeah.


MARTIN: Right?


MARTIN: Hell yeah?

CONTRERAS: Pretty much.


GARSD: Hell yeah, ahuevo. And it's also really funny. Like, you know, he's just talking to this girl and he's just like, man, your boyfriend is so ugly and I'm just so cute. What you doing?


MARTIN: OK. And then I picked a second track from those songs that you sent, Jasmine. The next track that I picked is El Remelon.

GARSD: El Remelon.

MARTIN: Right?

GARSD: Yeah.

MARTIN: Did I say that right? Let's listen to a little bit of it first.


CONTRERAS: So it starts sort of a cumbia beat.


MARTIN: I liked that traditional cumbia thing happening and then the transition to a more kind of modern dance feel.

GARSD: Yeah. So this is the song el "Vestido." And the beats are by this Argentine group called El Remolon. And they are very much into doing traditional cumbia sounds but modernizing them with these great electronic beats.


CONTRERAS: Which leads us to the last track that you picked. Somebody - a guy named David Ingles, who is originally from Guatemala. Now he lives in Salt Lake City. His album is full of all of these personal experiences as an immigrant. He describes immigration as an act of heroism and hope, but also of violence. And this is a track called "Caminantes." We were sort of singing along with this one, so I think we struck home with this one.

GARSD: Winner.


MARTIN: I don't speak Spanish, but it doesn't matter because I just want to hear that man sing to me, Felix.


MARTIN: It's beautiful.

GARSD: (Laughter).

CONTRERAS: Yeah. And I think the emotion of his voice and the rhythms being played...


CONTRERAS: ...It just kind of combines into a very nice expression.

MARTIN: Well, once again, you two have opened new doors for me. Thank you so much. Give me more homework. I'm game to do it.

CONTRERAS: OK. Next time, for sure.

GARSD: Awesome.

MARTIN: Felix Contreras and Jasmine Garsd. They are the co-hosts of NPR Music's Alt.Latino. This month's show features a ton of new music, including a look at the Puerto Rican rock scene and backstage reports from a Latin alternative music festival in Austin. These guys are busy. Thanks so much, you two.

CONTRERAS: Thank you.

GARSD: Ahuevo.


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

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