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Alt.Latino Finds Colombia's Mid-Century Afrosound

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Alt.Latino Finds Colombia's Mid-Century Afrosound

Music

Alt.Latino Finds Colombia's Mid-Century Afrosound

Alt.Latino Finds Colombia's Mid-Century Afrosound

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Putting the eclectic back in alternative, Felix Contreras of Alt.Latino talks with Rachel Martin and shares some 1960s Colombian throwback tunes, Latin jazz and bluegrass mariachi.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Alt Latino is NPR's online show about Latin Alternative music. From time to time, we ask the hosts of that show, Felix Contreras and Jasmine Garsd, to come into our studios and tell us about all the great new music they have found. Felix, you are here. I am happy. But there's no Jas. Where is she?

FELIX CONTRERAS: Jasmine is on assignment.

MARTIN: On assignment...

CONTRERAS: Right.

MARTIN: Whatever that means.

CONTRERAS: So I'm holding down the fort for her this week.

MARTIN: OK. So you usually bring us alternative musical delights, new stuff, though, Felix. The music we were just listening to - that sounds kind of throwback.

CONTRERAS: It is. It's very old. It's from Columbia from the 1960s. There's a great new compilation out. It's called "DJ Bongohead presents The Afrosound of Colombia Volume 2."

MARTIN: (Laughter).

CONTRERAS: It's from the 1960...

MARTIN: I've been waiting for Volume 2.

CONTRERAS: It's from the 1960s and 70s when that country was accepting and mainstreaming their African heritage for the first time. So these are 24 tracks of amazing crate diving gold for my favorite record label. It's called Vampisoul. They're based in Madrid. This track is called "Cumbia De Luna," and it's by a band called El Combo Loco.

(SOUNDBITE OF EL COMBO LOCO SONG, "CUMBIA DE LUNA")

EL COMBO LOCO: (Singing in Spanish).

MARTIN: May I ask a silly question?

CONTRERAS: Sure.

MARTIN: It seems like every time you bring me cumbia music, the artists actually said the word cumbia in the song. Is that - that's a thing?

CONTRERAS: I've never noticed that before.

MARTIN: Just call it what it is, cumbia.

CONTRERAS: 'Cause it's such a fun word to say, I guess. (Laughter).

MARTIN: I digress. OK. Let's talk about something else. You brought something more contemporary?

CONTRERAS: OK. I'm a longtime Latin jazz fan. And there's so much great music out there right now that I brought in a record I just had to play. It's called "Spirit Warrior," and it's by Papo Vasquez and The Mighty Pirates Troubadours. This is a track called "Despedida."

(SOUNDBITE OF PAPO VASQUEZ AND THE MIGHTY PIRATES TROUBADOURS SONG, "DESPEDIDA")

MARTIN: I love that.

CONTRERAS: Isn't it nice?

MARTIN: Yeah, I love that piano.

CONTRERAS: Now Papo Vasquez is a longtime presence in New York City. He's played with Latin jazz bands. He's played with salsa bands. Now most Latin jazz is based on Afro-Cuban rhythms. But what Papo Vasquez does is that he goes back to Puerto Rico which is where his family is from, and he incorporates all these folk rhythms from Puerto Rico - bomba and all these different things. And he does these amazing jazz arrangements with it. He's somebody that I think more people should know about because he's doing something very different and very cool.

MARTIN: OK. So we've had a little throwback 1960s music. We have had a little jazz - Latin jazz. But I need an alternative music fix. What you got?

CONTRERAS: OK. All right. Let's go back to Latin Alternative but this time with a slight, slight pop sheen. SLV is Sandra Lilia Velasquez. Now for the long time she headed a Mexican folk band with an edge called Pistolera out of Brooklyn. Now she's released two albums on our own. She's got a great new album out. She's written and produced the album with her bandmate, a guy named Sean Dixon. And it's a wonderful collection of love songs with a band that shares her musical vision. It's so perfectly executed. It's so perfectly played. This is a track called "Fire Eyes."

(SOUNDBITE OF SLV SONG, "FIRE EYES")

SLV: I will melt you with fire and I, I, all the things you want to be. I won't even have to say them to you, to you.

MARTIN: She has a lovely voice.

CONTRERAS: Doesn't she?

MARTIN: Yeah.

CONTRERAS: And what she did was move from the Pistolera, from the Mexican folk which she sings in Spanish and did an all English album with a lot of different electronic layers and textures. You know, she's not necessarily playing any Latin rhythms or any Mexican rhythms or anything. But it is her expression. Right? And for me it falls within the whole concept of Latin alternative because she's making this music and trying to establish her identity within this contemporary sound.

MARTIN: Yeah. So last you've brought in mariachi bluegrass, Felix.

CONTRERAS: Oh my gosh. OK. The album is called "Por Ahi" and it's a Mexican artist by the name of Rana Santacruz. This is his second album. And you know, it's a beautiful, seamless meshing of Mexican folk music with things like bluegrass, with 1920s style jazz. He does live in Brooklyn so here's a lot of Balkan music. For some reason they play a lot in Brooklyn. This is a track called "Noches de Lluvia."

(SOUNDBITE OF RANA SANTACRUZ SONG, "NOCHES DE LLUVIA")

RANA SANTACRUZ: (Singing in Spanish).

MARTIN: That is so lovely. And there is - I get it - a bluegrass quality. But it sounds kind of like a madrigal to me. It sounds even older than that.

CONTRERAS: You know? OK. So I'm going to break down the musical DNA for you.

(SOUNDBITE OF RANA SANTACRUZ SONG, "NOCHES DE LLUVIA")

CONTRERAS: OK. So what you're hearing is the feeling of Son Jarocho from Veracruz. (Chanting rhythm).

MARTIN: Yeah.

CONTRERAS: It's that 6/8 feel, but it's accentuated by the bluegrass fingerpicking on the banjo. And there's an accordion, a Mexican accordion-style playing chords. And a violent on top of it playing over this beautiful, beautiful love song. I think this album works with a vengeance.

MARTIN: It's gorgeous.

CONTRERAS: It's so gorgeous.

MARTIN: If you're curious and you want to check out the entire album, you can hear it as part of NPR's First Listen series which starts tomorrow. You can hear that at npr.org/music. Felix Contreras of Alt Latino. Thanks so much, Felix.

CONTRERAS: It's always a pleasure. Thanks.

(SOUNDBITE OF RANA SANTACRUZ SONG, "NOCHES DE LLUVIA")

SANTACRUZ: (Singing in Spanish).

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