Alt.Latino's best new music roundup: Helado Negro, Gaby Moreno and Ana Tijoux : Alt.Latino In the earliest days of the show, Alt.Latino's mailbox was usually piled high with CDs of new music from both emerging and well-known artists.

Now, Felix Contreras and Anamaria Sayre's email and social media accounts continue to open up new musical worlds at Alt.Latino and — in turn — all of you. The show starts 2024 with some great tracks from names you may know and a couple of bands that Felix and Ana think deserve wider recognition.

Audio for this episode of Alt.Latino was edited and mixed by Joaquin Cotler, with production support from Suraya Mohamed. Hazel Cills is the podcast editor and digital editor for Alt.Latino. Our VP of Music and Visuals is Keith Jenkins.

Alt.Latino's best new music roundup: Helado Negro, Gaby Moreno and Ana Tijoux

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Hey, Ana. It's barely the start of January, and I'm sitting here looking at my phone. And I'm getting a National Weather alert for a big storm that's coming to the D.C. area right now.


Felix, I'm sorry, but I know nothing of this. I was at the beach this morning, so I don't really know what to say.

CONTRERAS: Don't rub it in, seriously.

SAYRE: I live to rub it in, Felix. All I could think about all this time I was at the beach - I was like, I can't wait to tell Felix about this.

CONTRERAS: You're such a good friend. Thank you for thinking of me.

SAYRE: Yeah, of course.

CONTRERAS: Thank you.

SAYRE: Always thinking of you, Felix. And I was especially thinking of you because I've already been hearing so much good music this year.

CONTRERAS: Which is why we're doing our first new music show this week.

SAYRE: Ooh, I'm excited. Are you excited? Because I have a lot of good tracks today. I don't know if you have a lot of good tracks today, but...

CONTRERAS: I brought in some great new music, couple things that are from late December, other things that are coming out within the next couple weeks and in February. So, OK, we got to remind people that you're listening to ALT.LATINO from NPR Music. I'm Felix Contreras.

SAYRE: And I'm Anamaria Sayre. Let the chisme begin.


CONTRERAS: And the chisme begins with this cut. It's called "Le Quedan Dos" from a band called Candeleros. Check it out.


SAYRE: I love these guys.

CONTRERAS: They're a group of musicians from Venezuela and from Colombia. They're based in Madrid, and they call themselves Caribbean psychedelic - psicodélica caribeña. And you can hear it in that stuff. There's a lot of, like, 1960s Peruvian cumbia guitar, all the percussion. This track is called "Le Quedan Dos." It's an instrumental. It gives you a very, very good idea of who these guys are.


SAYRE: Wow, we're really kicking this year off Felix style. I cannot think of something more up your alley than a little psychedelic cumbia (laughter) with a little tropical twist to it. We're getting spicy this year.

CONTRERAS: But this is part of a continuum because, I mean, just a few years before we started doing the show is when musicians from Venezuela, from Colombia, really started digging into the African part of their heritage and the music, right? And it was, for many, many years, for decades, just sort of shunned. It was like second-class stuff. You didn't want to play the Black music. But these musicians just really dug into that. I'm thinking of Bomba Estéreo from Colombia, right? Like, all of these bands just really championed Afro-Caribbean, Afro-Colombian, Afro-Venezuelan music. And these guys are part of that continuum because there's tons of great percussion, drums, grooves, all that stuff. This is what I really like about these guys.

SAYRE: I love being able to pay homage to a sound, to a style that's - originates from where you are, that's so integral to where you're from but in such a, like, ethereal and future-leaning way. Like, there's nothing about this that feels clunky or old or revivalist. It's very forward-looking. I really like the sound. It's so rich.

CONTRERAS: And they break it down at the end with the traditional rhythm called gaita de tambora, which is from the southern part of Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela. They're almost like ethnomusicologists in that sense.


CONTRERAS: The band is called Candeleros. The album is called "El Bululú," and that track was called "Le Quedan Dos."


SAYRE: OK, my turn. First song of the year. I thought it was going to be really out of Felix zone, but as per always, I'm a bit surprised because I think it actually kind of pairs quite well with that last track you just played. This is "When The Day Comes To An End" by Cuco and remixed by DJ Slick.


CUCO: (Singing) Take the time you need to take. Say the words you have to say. 'Cause when the day comes to an end, we'll clear the haze up once again.

SAYRE: Ooh, I almost didn't bring this one, but I'm so intrigued by the evolution that is Cuco. We've talked about him quite a bit on the show, and I just - the more I hear him, the more inventive he gets. I mean, this is really out of the box for him a bit.

CONTRERAS: No doubt. That's another one of these great artists that we can follow on ALT.LATINO and watch them progress and change and grow along the way. And when that little (vocalizing) - that thing came in, man, caught my attention (laughter).

SAYRE: I know. But it doesn't feel, like, out of place for him. It's very much consistent with his style. It's just, like, a much brighter expression of what he was doing before. "When The Day Comes To An End" by Cuco, remixed by DJ Slick.

CONTRERAS: Yeah, definitely caught my attention on that one. OK, next, I'm going to slow it down just a little bit, OK? Is that OK? Is it still fun slow?

SAYRE: I don't know. I don't know, Felix. We'll see.

CONTRERAS: 'Cause there's a great new record from Gaby Moreno coming out.


CONTRERAS: The album comes out February 16. This has been released as a single. It's called "Dance The Night Away." She put out a record last year, and she seems to be on some kind of creative streak because she's got a whole new album of material coming out.


GABY MORENO: (Singing) How long have we been lonely? Have you forgotten how it feels to look me in the eye?

SAYRE: Oh, OK, I wholeheartedly approve. Felix, you have never led me astray. That was beautiful.

CONTRERAS: And the lyrics - you know, let's take our time. Let's look ahead. It's like - it is, like, sort of a New Year's song, recalibrating, figuring out what's happening 'cause there's a lot of stuff going on in the world and in our lives. So, yeah, this is actually very, very appropriate for this New Year's show.

SAYRE: And that's so Gaby. She's so intentional, thoughtful, like, really takes her time with things, her music. You can feel that energy. And it's always so refreshing to listen to someone who really spends a lot and puts a lot of work into getting that exact right sound.


CONTRERAS: There's a little bit of country tinge to it. I think I hear steel guitar. You know, I hear all of these things. There's acoustic guitar. She has enormous musical depth and has never let us down here at ALT.LATINO or any other fans.

SAYRE: We all know you're a big Gaby fan, Felix.

CONTRERAS: There you go.

SAYRE: I want to get you a T-shirt - I heart Gaby.


MORENO: (Singing) Dance the night away.

CONTRERAS: Gaby Moreno. Great new record called "Dusk" - it's coming out in February 16. Track is called "Dance The Night Away."

SAYRE: OK. This one's pretty cool. It's "Lagunas," which is originally a Peso Pluma, Jasiel Nuñez song but is covered on this by Ed Maverick. Check it out.


ED MAVERICK: (Singing) No la veo por abstinencia de tenerla cerca. Me puse una meta, de lejos es mejor. No por mí, esto es por los dos.

SAYRE: This one was really - I didn't even recognize it at first. I'm very familiar with "Génesis," with Peso Pluma's album, and I did not identify this as the same song because Ed just took it and he totally flipped it stylistically. It's really beautiful to hear him play again. He took a really long break. He hasn't released anything since 2022 - basically announced on social media that he didn't want to essentially be an artist anymore, but he still wanted to make music. And I think this is his, like, first attempt at playing with someone else's art and kind of just returning to the joy of making things again. It's really - I mean, he always has had such a gorgeous voice, such a gorgeous, like, texture to how he creates sounds. And so I love to hear him take a song like this, which is, like, a corrido tumbado song, and make it something totally unique.

CONTRERAS: You know what it also does for me since it's slowed down so drastically? It's, like, an emphasis on the lyrics, and a lot of the poetry that's in this music - I think that gets lost in the moment and the frenzy of the tubas and the guitars and all that stuff. I know I'm going to embarrass him, but my son Joaquin (ph) has really gotten into the whole Regional Mexican thing, and he's been playing guitar and learning all this stuff, right? So he's singing, singing to himself. He doesn't want to sing in public.

SAYRE: Oh, my God, Felix, you have to record that.

CONTRERAS: He would die. There's no way. He's going to kill me for even saying this.

SAYRE: The people want to hear it.

CONTRERAS: But I'm hearing - when he's singing these lyrics, I'm hearing them differently for the first time. And there's so much poetry in this music right now.

SAYRE: Absolutely. I mean, as we've talked about a million times, it's storytelling music, and Ed, I mean, he's from Chihuahua. Like, he is very much of the space, the language, like, all of it. And so the beauty of his work has always been that he takes that gorgeous lyricism that's so integral to the music that is from where he's from, and then he elevates it. He emphasizes it in his style, which is this much more, like, folk, indie, almost American kind of folky style of music. And so he, like, stole that sound and stole the letra, and he put it all together. And so it's really incredible to hear him do that same thing, but with the existing soul of this music, right?

CONTRERAS: We got a nice little mixtape going here, man.

SAYRE: I know. Like, we're in sync, Felix. We're, like, same brain.

CONTRERAS: And we'll be back with our first new music show of the year right after this.


CONTRERAS: You're listening to ALT.LATINO, and we're talking about new music.


HELADO NEGRO: (Singing) You take me all around uptown.

CONTRERAS: This track is called "I Just Want To Wake Up With You." And Helado Negro - or Roberto Lange is his real name - has been an ALT.LATINO favorite since the first time I heard that first record years and years and years ago. In fact, he's come in to do a Tiny Desk as well. But everything about him - his sonic sensibility, his lyrics and his vision, his musical vision and that voice, that voice, everything - just really just - everything about the stuff that he does always falls on me so nicely. Really, really big fan.

SAYRE: Every time I hear this man sing, every time I see him perform, I'm like, he is such a cool kid. Like, everything he does, like his vocal quality, the style of his music - it's just like - you're right. It always hits and not in a comfortable way. It just kind of, like, slides right in there, and you're like, oh, I really like the way - the texture of what you just did there. I like the way it, like, all fit together, but it's not, like, a perfect puzzle. It's just kind of, like, oh, it works.


HELADO NEGRO: (Singing) I just want to wake up with you.

CONTRERAS: He's a complete artist in the sense of his visuals too. I saw him perform one year at Vive Latino, God, years and years ago, right? And he had his band, but he had these two - it was like a performance art because he had these two people, like, dressed in what I can only describe as Christmas tree tinsel completely from head to toe. And he's singing his groovy stuff, and these Christmas tree tinsel things are just sort of shimmering next to him the whole time for his 45-minute set. I don't know how they survived the heat and all that, right? But it was the visual, and it fit perfectly, and the crowd loved it. That's what he does. That's what Helado Negro does.

SAYRE: Oh, that - the tinsel imagery - that's going to be in my brain now forever when I listen Helado Negro.

CONTRERAS: It's such a cool set. The name of the record is called Phasor. It's coming out on February 9. And the track is called "I Just Want To Wake Up With You."


HELADO NEGRO: (Singing) I just want to wake up with you.

SAYRE: OK, Felix, I feel like I almost need a drumroll for this one.


SAYRE: Ana Tijoux - a huge favorite of both of ours, an ALT.LATINO favorite. She hasn't released an album in nine years, Felix. Nine years - that's, like, half of my life, practically.


SAYRE: And you can hear it. You can hear it in the music. I was so blown away by this record. I know you know this, but it's so diverse. It's so, like, thoughtfully put together. You can tell that she's been, like, experimenting and playing and making - I don't know - like, a song - one song a year or something. Like, there's themes. There's, definitely certain sounds that show up more that are kind of more the centerpiece of what she's doing. But she really does a lot of interesting things that I never would have expected from her. I mean, she's a Chilean rapper with, we know, a vocal quality that is fit for the opera, I swear. And she can really do anything she wants, and she kind of does.


SAYRE: This is "Tania" off the new record "Vida."


ANA TIJOUX: (Singing) Cuando va cayendo la noche en la mar, estrellita' de sal me vienen a avisar, más allá de todo plano terrenal, bella luz sideral que viene a convocar todo lo que no te dije…

CONTRERAS: Ana Tijoux is one of our major artists in this Latin music and contemporary scene right now. And it's just such a joy to be able to anticipate everything that's going to come from this record, 'cause she is such a big deal.

SAYRE: You know, honestly, Felix, I kind of have to disagree with you on that. I don't think at this moment in time Ana is a major artist in the Latin music scene. I think taking nine years away - not having made an album in nine years - I don't see her as being - we've always loved her. I go back to her music all the time. I don't see her as being a massive presence now because of the space that she's taken. And I so thoroughly respect that, because now she's coming out with this record that I think will put her in that position. Like, it's that good, I think. It's that versatile. It's that interesting. It's that dynamic. Like, she pulls not only from all over Latin America - she's got some dembow in there. She's got some electro cumbia in there. She's got all kinds of things there.

She's also got some, like, really almost, like, American hip-hop and R&B stylings that I hear sprinkled throughout. She had some, like, American rap collaborators hop on some tracks. I mean, there was literally no limit to her creativity here. And I think that that is - it's amazing to me that someone who has not released music in so many years is not only, like, in step, in line with where we are as a Latin music space right now - with the inventiveness, the creativity, the cross-genre picking that we're doing - but, like, she's a step ahead. Like, she's taking us to the next level. It's an amazing record to start the year with.

CONTRERAS: And see, that's why I think that she's a major artist, because even with that nine-year layoff, you take into consideration her whole body of work and everything that she's done. And it's almost like, OK, we're going to - she's going to sit back and let everything sort of develop around her for whatever reason. And then when she does drop something, it is going to be a definitive statement of who she is at this moment right now, as well as who she has been all along since she started her career. So I consider her a major artist, and this thing will only add to that and will let everyone else see that, yeah, this is who she is. This is what she does.

SAYRE: You know, Felix, as always, we will keep debating this offline, online. But I'm excited because we can kind of ask her a few questions herself. Spoiler - we're actually going to be talking to her soon. We'll have that episode out in a couple weeks, and it'll be interesting. I think it might affect my perspective a little bit when I get to hear from the source herself what she's been doing for the past nine years and why.

CONTRERAS: She's always a fascinating conversation. So can't wait to bring you in on that. The name of the record is "Vida." It's coming out in January 18. That track is called "Tania."


CONTRERAS: And that's going to wrap up our first new music show of the year. Lots of stuff to look forward to this year.

SAYRE: Wow, and one whole new music show already in the bag, Felix. We've got a lot more to go.

CONTRERAS: You have been listening to ALT.LATINO from NPR Music. Our audio producer for this episode is Joaquin Cotler.

SAYRE: Our editor is Hazel Cills, and the woman who keeps us together is Grace Chung.

CONTRERAS: Special thanks to Suraya Mohamed. And our jefe and chief is Keith Jenkins, VP of music and visuals. I'm Felix Contreras.

SAYRE: And I'm Anamaria Sayre. Thank you for listening.


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