On Alt.Latino, the weekly podcast I've hosted for 11 years, we like to say every month is Hispanic Heritage Month. But we've amped things up a bit between the 15th of September and the 15th of October each year — and 2021 marks the grandest production yet.
This year we're presenting an unprecedented display (for NPR, at least) of Latin music via our takeover of the Tiny Desk (home) concerts series. And while we are kicking it off with reggaetón superstar J Balvin (yes, J Balvin performed a Tiny Desk), this is more than just entertainment. One of the foundational principles of Alt.Latino is my strong belief that music can be a sociological snapshot when it comes to communities with a direct or historical connection to Latin America.
Genres and cultural inspirations are blended and blurred in just about all of the performers on our list. Eme Alfonso's gorgeous mix of Santería and soul, Diamante Eléctrico's mix of Afro-Colombian roots music and modern pop, are just two examples. In fact, a closer examination of J Balvin's rise reveals the transnational journey of reggaetón from the Jamaican community of Panama City to the mixtapes of Afro-Puerto Rican streets to the ex-pat communities of Brooklyn, and finally the worldwide dominance after "Despacito."
It's no accident that reggaetón's musical trail also mirrors the many paths of immigration, as people move to and fro in search of better lives in new lands or, sometimes, new neighborhoods. So many stories of Latin musicians can be traced in the same fashion, and for the next 30 days, we reach out through "El Tiny," the Alt.Latino podcast, our weekly Spotify and Apple Music playlists, and NPR's Instagram feeds to tell those stories. Enjoy.