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Alt.Latino Takes A Trip To Colombia
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Alt.Latino Takes A Trip To Colombia

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Salsa, hip hop, Cumbia and Good old fashioned rock and roll - when it comes to Latin musical variety, Colombia may take the prize. Colombia not only exports some of Latin music's biggest stars, including Shakira, it has a rich tradition of indigenous and Afro-Latin music.

Felix Contreras and Jasmine Garsd host Alt.Latino. That's a podcast and blog from NPR Music. They recently traveled throughout Colombia to explore the musical wealth that country has to offer. Thanks so much for being back with us.

JASMINE GARSD: Thank you so much for having us.

FELIX CONTRERAS: Thanks for having us.

SIMON: Now, Felix, you guys went on kind of an exploratory tour, didn't you?

CONTRERAS: We traveled with a show called Music Voyager - it's a PBS show - and they invited us along to explore some of the music. Now, the show travels around the world, Music Voyager, and they do all kinds of music, from traditional to pop. So, went specifically to look and listen to some of the Latin alternative bands and we found a lot of very, very fun stuff.

SIMON: Well, share some souvenirs with us, if you could.

GARSD: One of the things I love about Latin America, but especially about Colombia, is there's never a quiet moment. There's always music coming out of every window, every car. It's like this symphony, especially in the big cities; of bus wheels squeaking and cars honking, people singing on the street corners.

Herencia De Timbiqui, which means Heritage of Timbiqui - Timbiqui is a town in the Pacific Northwest of Colombia - they embody that kind of raucous sound of salsa and Afro-Caribbean rhythm. So, I'd really like to share some of that music with you.

(Soundbite of song, "Y Que?")

HERENCIA DE TIMBIQUI: (Singing in Spanish)

GARSD: This is really the big mix, the stew. You have African rhythms, you have salsa, rock and roll. OK. This is like 12-plus dudes. They all just come with their instruments and they set up in an alley. We were going to originally play in a church but there was a wedding going on. And they set up and they started jamming. And, Felix, tell them about the percussions.

CONTRERAS: Well, there's a very strong African influence in Colombia, and so in this band what you hear is a marimba, which is a descendant of the African balliphone. The marimba is very, very popular throughout Latin America and specifically in Colombia. This is one of the bands that used that African influence with the marimba, with some of the traditional drums, mixing it in with the funk of the rock. So, you're hearing, like she said, like this mixture, this stew, this great gumbo, this great combination of sounds and influences and great party music.

(Soundbite of song, "Y Que?")

SIMON: You guys are a Latin alternative show, so you focus a lot of attention on rock and hip hop. What's that scene like in Colombia?

GARSD: Colombia is huge for that scene. It exports some of the biggest Latin rock and hip hop artists. We were lucky enough that when we got to Colombia -we started off our trip in Bogota, in the capital - and we caught up with a band called La Mojarra Electrica, which means the Electric Fish. And they're one of the first bands that's actually doing, like, this fusion of salsa, Cumbia and rock and roll. And they played for us on the street.

(Soundbite of song, "Por El Hueco")

LA MOJARRA ELECTRICA: (Singing in Spanish)

SIMON: Boy, tell us about this song.

CONTRERAS: It's a song about reflecting the collective energy and collective spirit. Again, the big Afro-Colombian influence. At the beginning of this song, you can hear the drum how it starts out. It's called an allegra drum. It looks like a West African djembe. That's what the band is about. That's what the sound is about. And it's what the song's about. It's really just a mish-mash, again, of all these different influences.

GARSD: And, Scott, you had to see where these guys set up. It was in downtown Bogota in the middle of one of the busiest markets. And they just set up and started playing there. And you got this crowd of, like, grandmas with their grandchildren that were going shopping for fruits and vegetables just dancing there. It was really this energy. Oh, and it was raining and everyone was under the rain. I wish you could've been there. It was great.

(Soundbite of song, "Por El Hueco")

LA MOJARRA ELECTRICA: (Singing in Spanish)

GARSD: The highlight of the trip for me was meeting one of the legends of Latin rock, which is the group Aterciopelados, which means the Velvety Ones. Not only are they one of the pioneers of Latin rock and just one of the biggest groups that paved the way for other Latin rock bands, they're kind of soundtrack of my adolescence. So, everyone was teasing me that I was going to pass out when I met them.

Andrea Echeverri, who fronts this band, she is a very powerful, almost like a mother earth figure, maybe more relatable to us as hippies here. When I was a teenager, she sang almost a little bit more punk rock about sexism and what it's like to be a Latin woman. And now she's definitely gotten a lot more political in this next song that I want to play for you. She sings about saying no to violence; instead of karate let's learn caresses.

(Soundbite of song, "Ataque De Risa")

ATERCIOPELADOS: (Singing in Spanish)

CONTRERAS: You may think you're not hearing anything Colombia but Aterciopelados, they're well known enough to have her presence there and to have a guitar going to just be a very unique sound, and the lyrics of the song also reflects some of their social-political stances. And even the location where they played - they played at a place called La Candelaria, which is the old colonial part of Bogota. And it was once a home for indigenous people and then the Spaniards came and changed it and made a colonial area.

And so this song and their whole presence, their whole identity a lot of times, is associated with indigenous rights and social justice. So, it was really a really big deal for them to be able to perform for us like this and to be able to hang out with them and meet with them.

SIMON: Thanks very much for being back with us.

GARSD: Thank you.

CONTRERAS: Thanks for having us.

SIMON: Jasmine Garsd and Felix Contreras. They host Alt.Latino on NPR. And you can hear examples of Cumbia, salsa and rock on the Alt.Latino website. That's at

Starting next week, you can visit the site for music, photos and blog posts about Felix and Jasmine's trip to Colombia.

(Soundbite of song, "Ataque De Risa")

ATERCIOPELADOS: (Singing in Spanish)

SIMON: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

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