MICHEL MARTIN, host: And in tribute to Hispanic Heritage Month, we decided to focus on one of the things that sustains the culture no matter the nationality: music. Yesterday, nominees for this year's Latin Grammy awards were announced. Winners will be announced at the awards program November 10th in Las Vegas, but joining us to talk about some of the exciting nominations are Jasmine Garsd and Felix Contreras; they are co-hosts of NPR Music's ALT-LATINO. That's an online program about Latin alternative music. Welcome back to you both. Thanks so much for joining us.
FELIX CONTRERAS: Thanks for having us.
JASMINE GARSD: So excited to be here.
MARTIN: So Jasmine, tell us about what are some of the nominations that are causing the most buzz?
GARSD: Well, definitely we have to talk about Puerto Rican rap duo Calle 13. They have a record-breaking 10 nominations for their album "Entren Los Que Quieran." And Michel, I just want to play a song for you. This is
MARTIN: Just for me.
GARSD: Yes, this is "Latinoamerica."
MARTIN: Okay here it is. Let's hear it.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LATINOAMERICA")
CALLE 13: (Singing in foreign language)
MARTIN: So this song was nominated for song of the year and they also were nominated for best urban music album. But what is it that - what do you think - first you've got to help me translate. Translate. What are they talking about and then tell us what are you - what is that the industry's so excited about?
GARSD: It's a beautiful ode to Latin America and featuring- one of the things I love about Calle 13 is they work a lot with legendary artists and just - the hook that you're hearing is sung by Colombian folk singer Toto La Momposina. She's a legendary Colombian songstress, and this album was just fantastic. I mean, I really like reggaeton, and I like Latin rap a lot.
Unfortunately, a lot of the stuff that's coming out is, eh. The Calle 13 just makes it worth giving Latin rap a chance. Their lyrics are intelligent and raunchy and funny and good. They're just good. The music that they hook with is really awesome, and they have so much passion. And this album was very passionate. A lot of it reads like an ode to Latin America.
MARTIN: Just - could you just translate a little bit?
GARSD: Sure. They're just talking about, you know, who they are, you know, I am the backbone of Latin America. You know, for example, they say, I am the face of somebody who has disappeared. So they just go through all of what - every single Latin experience, and the put it in a...
MARTIN: A lot of history...
MARTIN: ...was actually woven through very poetically. OK. Felix, anything surprising this time around? Any head-scratchers?
CONTRERAS: Well, those guys were surprising in the sense that they won a record-setting 10 nominations for that album and a number of singles that came out of it. Like Jasmine says, they're both profound and profane, and there's a lesson to be learned, I think, from other musicians who go the profane way to balance it.
So that was - to me, that was surprising, that the industry was giving them that kind of recognition. Another thing that was interesting to me was in the best tango category, there was a flamenco singer nominated. And it's interesting, because it's a cross-genre type thing. It's as if John Legend made a blue grass album and killed.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
MARTIN: OK. Well, can we have some? Can you play a little bit for us?
CONTRERAS: Yeah. We're going to play a thing called...
GARSD: "El Dia Que Me Quieras."
CONTRERAS: That one.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EL DIA QUE ME QUIERAS")
DIEGO EL CIGALA: (Singing in Spanish)
MARTIN: And this is...
CONTRERAS: Diego El Cigala.
MARTIN: This is beautiful. Why is this surprising?
CONTRERAS: Because it's - flamenco is a very insular kind of music. There are very strong characteristics that make a great flamenco singer, and Cigala is considered one of the greatest. He's of a younger generation, so he's considered an up-and-coming master. And to use those things that he does in flamenco, some of the vocal trills, some of those traditions that go back hundreds of years, and to superimpose them over a completely different genre and style and practice of tango, it works effortlessly. It's just a nice combination.
MARTIN: If you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. We're talking about this year's Latin Grammy nominations with the host of NPR Music's ALT.LATINO podcast, Jasmine Garsd and Felix Contreras. Well, what about - are there other classical artists or established artists that got a nod this year? I think many people who follow the English Grammys will remember when Herbie Hancock won for - I think it was for best album, and people were, like, what?
CONTRERAS: Yeah. Yeah.
MARTIN: You know?
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
GARSD: I think we should mention Vicente Fernandez. He is a remarkable artist who has been nominated - he's 71 years old. He has 35-plus years of career, and he does a lot of, like, mariachi and ranchera style, very rural. And despite that he's been critically acclaimed - he's sold 50 million albums in his career. He's already won one Grammy in 2010, and this is possibly the second time.
MARTIN: What is the category?
CONTRERAS: This is the best ranchera album, and that's under the field of Mexican music. This is ranchera style. This is a very mariachi - we'll play it, and then I'll explain.
MARTIN: OK. Here it is.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TU MIRADA")
VICENTE FERNANDEZ: (Singing in Spanish)
GARSD: Michel, be careful. Felix is getting restless. I think he wants to get down on one knee and...
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
MARTIN: And this is "Tu Mirada." And tell us a little bit more.
CONTRERAS: It's a mariachi, obviously. It's...
MARTIN: It's dance music, isn't it?
CONTRERAS: It's dance music. It's - you know, I've heard some people refer to it as Mexican restaurant music, because that's what you hear...
MARTIN: Oh, that's cold.
CONTRERAS: I know.
MARTIN: That's cold.
CONTRERAS: But I've seen some great mariachis in restaurants sometimes. But it is a traditional style. It's a very rural style. It's reflecting a way of life that used to be in Mexico, and that some people still wish there were, even the city dwellers. They always have a soft spot in their hearts for mariachi music, just simply because of what it represents, and its history. And Vicente Fernandez is the gold standard of mariachi singers. Everybody else is compared to him.
MARTIN: Felix, one thing I wanted to ask you about - this is something that you did a story about. And we've been talking about the Latin Grammys, which is, of course, for artists who perform and record in Spanish and Portuguese. But earlier this year, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences - which is the group that's in charge of the English-language Grammys - eliminated 31 categories, including Latin jazz.
Now, is that having repercussions for the Latin Grammys - for example, artists who previously would have competed in that category? Do they have a home in the Latin Grammys? Is Latin jazz represented anywhere?
CONTRERAS: It's represented in - within the Latin Grammys, for sure. You know, the Latin Grammys are controversial among some of the artists, among the Latin artists, because some of them, in talking to a lot of Latin jazz artists, they feel like the Latin Grammys are sort of a separate-but-equal type of thing. And they want to be able to compete within the Grammys in general, so that there's a whole - it's an even playing field.
Not every artist feels that way. A lot of these artists that I've talked to are saying, you know, with the rise of Hispanic culture, Latino culture here in the United States, for NARAS to eliminate that category and have us compete against Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, etc., it's an uneven playing field.
MARTIN: Well, what - couldn't one argue the other way, that aren't there a lot of artists who record in English, or both in English and Spanish who are left out by the rubric of only recording in Spanish and Portuguese? I mean, isn't there a whole, like, generation of artists with Latin-American heritage?
GARSD: It's interesting, because one of the - in order to be considered for a Latin Grammy, 51 percent of the lyrics have to be in Spanish or in Portuguese. But at the same time, we talk on our show all the time about how many Latin artists choose to sing in English for marketing reasons, or just because they want to. And that's really - I mean, it's an interesting question to consider. I mean, where do you draw that line?
MARTIN: All right. We'll meet again in November, when the awards are announced and you can tell us if there are any upsets or any head-scratchers.
CONTRERAS: We look forward to it.
MARTIN: Felix Contreras and Jasmine Garsd are co-hosts of NPR Music's ALT.LATINO. That's a podcast that explores Latin alternative music, and you can hear them at npr.org/altlatino. Jasmine, Felix, thanks so much for joining us.
GARSD: Thanks for having us.
CONTRERAS: Thank you very much.