Summer Music From Alt.Latino It's rock, it's hip hop, it's sung in English ... can it still be "Latin music"? Music and cultural identity intersect in surprising ways in this week's list of tunes shared by Alt.Latino.
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Summer Music From Alt.Latino

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Summer Music From Alt.Latino

Summer Music From Alt.Latino

Summer Music From Alt.Latino

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It's rock, it's hip hop, it's sung in English ... can it still be "Latin music"? Music and cultural identity intersect in surprising ways in this week's list of tunes shared by Alt.Latino.

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

For some, the summer is almost over. For others, we're just about at the midway point - trips still to be had, books to be read, beaches to be visited. Last month, Felix Contreras stopped by the studio to help me build my own vacation playlist. And he's back with more new music to take us to the end of the summer. Welcome back.

FELIX CONTRERAS, BYLINE: Thank you. Good morning.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: We always start these segments with music. So I got to ask, what are we listening to?

CONTRERAS: This is futuristic Afro-Peruvian music from the past.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: OK.

CONTRERAS: The band is called Novalima. They're celebrating 15 years. And I love their genre-busting approach to music - reinterpreting Afro-Peruvian culture with electronic music. One of my favorite bands. They have a new album coming out in September. There's a single out right now. The title track is called "Ch'usay." And the lyrics are in Quechua.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CH'USAY")

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing in Quechua).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So listening to this music, you know, it brings up something that I think you've touched on in the past. And on your show, you have been taking a deeper dive into ideas of self-identity through music. And you did it again this week, so I want to talk a little bit about that.

CONTRERAS: You know, as I listen to music, which is pretty much all day here at work, I think about how the definition of Latin music has changed since I started to listen seriously when I was a kid. Now, back then, the lines were clearly drawn. Latin music meant Spanish language lyrics with some form of rhythm or style associated with a particular culture - mariachi from Mexico, salsa from the Caribbean, cumbia from Colombia and Mexico. But then as I listen now, what do we do with bands like The Marias, which calls themself (ph) a psychedelic soul band? They're from Southern California. They sing in Spanish, and they sound like this.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CARINO")

THE MARIAS: (Singing in Spanish).

CONTRERAS: OK. Sort of traditional, nothing different there.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah.

CONTRERAS: Then there's a change.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CARINO")

MARIA: (Singing in Spanish).

CONTRERAS: So if you put English lyrics on that.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah.

CONTRERAS: Right?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, I can see what you're getting at here. And you reached out to a number of musicians to get a discussion going. And what did you find out?

CONTRERAS: OK. I asked some of the musicians the hard questions. Is your music Latin music, or is it music made by Latin acts or Latin musicians? And what is the difference? And the lead singer from the Marias, who calls herself just Maria - she answered in an email. She said I definitely see it as music made by Latinx artists and not bucketed into the Latin music genre. Even though she says, I do consider myself Latin because I was born in Puerto Rico, and both of my parents are Latin, I grew up in the States and constantly bouncing between both cultures. And I think you can hear that in their music when you listen closely and listen how all of that comes together.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CARINO")

MARIA: (Singing in Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I think that's a really important distinction. When we think about music and other cultural contributions by Latinos, often it gets lumped into a genre. But, really, they're expanding the boundaries all the time of what that means and what they're drawing on to get their inspiration. And so I think you, certainly, are stretching the boundaries of what we think of as Latin music. And I think we're going to hear some of that now.

CONTRERAS: Yeah. Now check this out, all right?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "REMAIN")

LIZ BRASHER: (Singing) I used to build dreams around you instead of watching them fall.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Not Latin music as I tend to think of it.

CONTRERAS: This is Liz Brasher. She's Dominican-American, raised in a small town in North Carolina. She's a fantastic blues and R&B singer. I asked her about her perspective on self-identity and music and how it's interpreted. And let me read a little bit of our email exchange. She says, I grew up around my huge Dominican family and am still very close with them. So maintaining those roots and being Dominican in the South always went hand-in-hand. Part of the idea of my EP "Outcast" was that my entire life was lived between multiple worlds. She says, I was never American enough for my American friends and yet never really embraced by my Hispanic friends, either. I've always felt like a bit of an outsider. But I think that perspective has given me a unique opportunity to see things that others may have missed and to write songs from those strange places. So it's yet another interpretation of a Latino existence here in the United States.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And I think so many of us could identify with her words there.

CONTRERAS: Yes. Her EP is called "Outcast." And this is the song "Remain" from that LP.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "REMAIN")

BRASHER: (Singing) In love we were born, in love we've died. Take me from the ground and breathe in life. Don't want another glass of champagne. In love we were born, in love we've died. Take me from the ground and breathe in life. Don't want another glass of champagne.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And I think the next tune you're going to play for us is a very iconic tune. But it didn't come from within the Latino community. So what are we hearing here?

CONTRERAS: OK. I want to play you the iconic track "Maria" from the "West Side Story." But it sounds a little different. Check it out.

(SOUNDBITE OF BOBBY SANABRIA AND THE MULTIVERSE BIG BAND'S "MARIA")

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Of course, the original was written by Leonard Bernstein. Who is reinterpreting it?

CONTRERAS: This is from an album called "West Side Story Reimagined." And it is by Bobby Sanabria and the Multiverse Big Band. And what he's doing is that he's recreated the entire soundtrack in a way as if the original production had gone for authenticity, instead of the way we know it, OK? If he'd gone for cultural authenticity, rather. He added all this Afro-Caribbean element to the music, considering that the gangs are supposed to be Puerto Ricans, right? This is a great reinterpretation, a great album. And it certainly gives us a lot to think about in terms of how the music is perceived and how it's presented eventually.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Lots to think about and listen to. If you want to be part of that conversation, check out the latest Alt.Latino podcast and look for them on Facebook and Twitter. They are NPR's Alt.Latino, and you are Felix Contreras.

CONTRERAS: (Laughter).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Thank you so much.

CONTRERAS: Thank you, Lulu.

(SOUNDBITE OF BOBBY SANABRIA AND THE MULTIVERSE BIG BAND'S "MARIA")

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