MICHEL MARTIN, host:
And finally, big party in Vegas. Add Latin flavor, stir. That's what's happening tonight at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. What happens in Vegas is definitely not staying in Vegas. It's the 11th annual Latin Grammy Awards. They will be seen live around North America on Univision Network stations. It will also stream live around the world for anybody with Internet access. And in a couple of weeks the program will air on the CBS network.
We decided to look ahead to this celebration of new and old school artists and the awards offered by the Latin Recording Academy, so we have invited two of NPR's experts to wander down the hall. They are Felix Contreras and Jasmine Garsd. They are the co-hosts of "Alt Latino." That is NPR Music's program and podcast dedicated to Latin alternative music and rock.
Thank you both for walking down the hall.
Ms. JASMINE GARSD ("Co-host, "Alt Latino"): Thank you so much for inviting us.
Mr. FELIX CONTRERAS ("Co-host, "Alt Latino"): Thanks for having us.
MARTIN: So Felix, let's get started. One of the premier categories during any music awards is Best New Artist. So who are some of the newer talents that are likely to rock the mike tonight?
Mr. CONTRERAS: Yeah, the list is interesting because theres a lot a different styles. There's rock, there's the more traditional stuff. There's things that you would expect. But the one we're excited about is a guy name Alex Cuba. He's an interesting guy. He looks like a really young Sly Stone, big Afro, nice sideburns. I mean, he really strikingly looks like Sly from when I remember him, when I was a kid.
But he's got an interesting mix. It's acoustic guitar-driven style of music, and he's got a wonderful voice and he's got this really engaging personality that it shows that not only is he good now, but he lives up to the idea of a Best New Artist because he has incredible potential and we're really excited about him.
MARTIN: I think we have a cut to play. I think it's the song is "Carallo." Is that it?
Mr. CONTRERAS: "Caballo."
MARTIN: All right. Let's play it.
(Soundbite of song, "Caballo")
Mr. ALEX CUBA (Singer-songwriter): (Singing) (Foreign language spoken)
MARTIN: So to be eligible for the Latin Grammys for, just to clarify, do you have to sing in Spanish?
Mr. CONTRERAS: You have to sing in Spanish or Portuguese.
MARTIN: Or Portuguese?
Mr. CONTRERAS: Portuguese.
Mr. CONTRERAS: Yeah. Everything. There's a whole section of Brazilian music and that's if you're doing vocals because there's also instrumental stuff. There's, you know, classical music and all that.
MARTIN: If you throw in an English word or two, like hotdog, are you disqualified?
Mr. CONTRERAS: No.
Ms. GARSD: No. There's actually a band called Hotdog.
MARTIN: Okay. Okay. See, that's what I'm talking about. I'm talking about.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. GARSD: That's been nominated.
MARTIN: Okay, Jasmine, what about - well, what are they nominated for?
Ms. GARSD: Best Pop Album, actually, the nominee.
(Soundbite of laughter)
MARTIN: No kidding? Well, what about Album of the Year, Jasmine? That's something that a lot of people are excited about.
Ms. GARSD: Well, yeah, Michel, actually Album of the Year is one of the categories that, you know, it has a lot of the usual suspects in there. And two heavy hitters this year are Alejandro Sanz from Spain for his album "Paraiso Express" and Juan Luis Guerra for - he's from the Dominican Republic - from his album "A Son de Guerra." And my bets and my hopes, I guess, are that Juan Luis Guerra will win.
Ms. GARSD: He's just almost a legendary singer right now. He used to study poetry and literature in the Dominican Republic, and then he went into music. He has a beautiful voice, a wonderful storytelling ability, and just really infectious music, always with a little bit of a political message.
MARTIN: Okay. You've got a cut for us to hear. What is it?
Ms. GARSD: This is "La Guagua," which means "The Bus."
(Soundbite of song, "La Guagua")
Mr. JUAN LUIS GUERRA (Singer-songwriter): (Singing) (Foreign language spoken)
MARTIN: So, Jasmine, just give us a little translation.
Ms. GARSD: Well, believe it or not, this is actually a song that is very festive and very danceable. But it has a political message in it. It's talking about la guagua va en reversa, which means the bus is going backwards. And it's kind of talking about society and government.
MARTIN: Yeah. I think we get it.
Ms. GARSD: And, you know, and...
MARTIN: Yeah. I think we get. A lot of people would be playing that here.
Ms. GARSD: Yeah. Definitely.
(Soundbite of laughter)
MARTIN: What about Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year? Do they have room for all that on the plaque? What is up with that? What? What?
Mr. CONTRERAS: You know, I think it's something that the Grammys do also. It's like the Person of the Year and it's usually a high profile person. I think Ricky Martin has done it in the past - received it in the past, Shakira, Carlos Santana. This year it's Placido Domingo, and he's - the award is for people who do stuff off the stage. You know, they contribute to charitable causes. They do a lot of work behind the scenes.
And Placido is one of these guys who, if I can say, you know, just in a first name, but he is really one of these kind of guys who has just been doing this for a long time. Of course, he's an opera singer from Spain, respected around the world for his musical abilities, but he gives a lot back to communities all over the world, especially young people. Ive seen - I've taken my kids to an opera workshop at the Kennedy Center here where he's been on the stage talking about the opera. So he's very, very involved and committed to...
MARTIN: He's the artistic director of the Washington National Opera...
Mr. CONTRERAS: Correct.
MARTIN: ...as well as all these others committees. I've always wondered when the man sleeps.
Mr. CONTRERAS: You know, I have no idea.
MARTIN: I really don't understand how he lives, because he packs 48 hours into every day. I don't know how he does it.
Mr. CONTRERAS: It's amazing. I want that secret. And he's being recognized for that and he's really loved all over Latin America.
MARTIN: If youre just joining us, I'm Michel Martin and youre listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're speaking with NPR's Felix Contreras and Jasmine Garsd. We're talking about the Latin Grammy Awards, which are tonight in Las Vegas. They are the co-hosts of "Alt Latino." It's a podcast and program from NPR Music where they explore alternative music and rock.
And let's see, what about Best Alternative Music Song, since you are "Alt Latino," what about the alternative music, Jasmine? What do you have?
Ms. GARSD: Well, you know, I think this is a really interesting category to look at because it has a lot of pioneers, new musicians, people trying different things. For Best Alternative Album, I suspect Ely Guerra from Mexico might get that title. But I think the more interesting category this year is Best Alternative Song. There's a lot of great songs in there. And, you know, one band that I suspect might win is Choc Quib Town for the song "De Donde Vengo Yo," which means "From Where I Come From," and they come from Colombia, from a region known as Choco.
(Soundbite of song, "De Donde Vengo Yo,")
CHOC QUIB TOWN (Band): (Singing) (Foreign language spoken)
MARTIN: I'm sorry, does anybody want to continue this interview? I was just kind of enjoying myself here...
(Soundbite of laughter)
MARTIN: ...getting ready for the weekend.
Mr. CONTRERAS: It's interesting because one of the things that they do also is they're really into the Afro-Colombian part of Colombian culture, and that's one of the things that they are really working on and pushing in their music. And I think the Latin Alternative category is probably the most interesting because that's where rock and hip-hop and acoustic music and ambient and everything it sort of gets all mixed in and mashed. And I think that's one of the more interesting, if not the more interesting category of the whole thing.
MARTIN: And the rock scene, who's nominated for Best Rock Solo Vocal Album of the Year, Jasmine? That's something that a lot of people are excited about too.
Ms. GARSD: Actually, it's really interesting this year. It's pretty dramatic. Who I suspect will win is for Best Rock Song, we have Argentine, Gustavo Cerati for the song "D�j� Vu." And he is also nominated for his album "Fuerza Natural."
MARTIN: Let's play a little bit of it so we can hear.
(Soundbite of song, "D�j� Vu")
Mr. GUSTAVO CERATI (Singer-songwriter): (Singing) (Foreign language spoken)
Ms. GARSD: It's an interesting story because earlier this year he was touring. First of all, this guy is like a big name. He's iconic. He's almost like the Sting of Latin rock. He's a pioneer. He's done excellent work with his former band, Soda Stereo, and as a soloist, earlier this year he was touring in Venezuela. He had an aneurysm and he fell into a coma and he's been in a coma ever since. And there's pretty much - they're not giving any hope that he's going to wake up from the coma. So I...
MARTIN: That's a terrible story.
Ms. GARSD: I know. And I think...
MARTIN: I mean, that's really sad.
Ms. GARSD: It's extremely sad and I feel like hes going to win. I dont see how...
MARTIN: Well, just for reasons of sympathy at least.
Ms. GARSD: Yeah. Mm-hmm.
Mr. CONTRERAS: Yeah. It's...
MARTIN: Well, that's very sad.
Mr. CONTRERAS: It's quite a story.
MARTIN: I wasn't prepared for that. There are a couple of names that we've mentioned here, Daddy Yankee, Ricky Martin, that if you don't speak Spanish or Portuguese and follow, you know, Latin music that people would know.
Mr. CONTRERAS: Right.
MARTIN: So are there other artists there who are not perhaps as well-known yet to people who are non-Spanish speakers who you think will be in the coming years - so we can say you heard it here first?
Ms. GARSD: Alex Cuba.
Mr. CONTRERAS: Yeah. I think Alex Cuba is going to make a big strike.
Ms. GARSD: Yeah.
Mr. CONTRERAS: And he's got that kind of - he's got it. Whatever it is, he's got it and that's what's going to push him over the top.
MARTIN: All right. NPR's Felix Contreras and Jasmine Garsd are the co-hosts of "Alt Latino." That is a program by NPR Music. It's dedicated to Latin alternative music and rock. It is presented in Spanish and Portuguese and they joined us from our studios in Washington.
Thank you both so much for joining us.
Ms. GARSD: Thank you for having us.
Mr. CONTRERAS: Thanks for having us.
MARTIN: Also tonight, you can follow Jasmine and Felix as they tweet live during the award show at "Alt Latino."
(Soundbite of music)
MARTIN: And that's our program for today.