Alt.Latino's best new music round-up: Angélica Garcia, Young Miko and The Mavericks : Alt.Latino Anamaria Sayre and Felix Contreras round up their favorite new music, from Puerto Rican rapper Young Miko's boundary-pushing new music, to Alejandro Escovedo's genre-bending rock and Angelica Garcia's electro-cumbia.

Songs featured in this episode:
• Young Miko, "Tamagotchi"
• The Mavericks, "Moon & Stars (with Sierra Ferrell)"
• Angélica Garcia, "Juanita"
• Alejandro Escovedo, "Castañuelas"
• Nella, Yendry, "Veinte Años"
• Sheila E., "Bemba Colorá (ft. Gloria Estefan and Mimy Succar)"

Audio for this episode of Alt.Latino was edited and mixed by Joaquin Cotler. Hazel Cills is the podcast editor and digital editor for Alt.Latino, and our project manager is Grace Chung. NPR Music's executive producer is Suraya Mohamed. Our VP of Music and Visuals is Keith Jenkins.

Alt.Latino's best new music round-up: Angélica Garcia, Young Miko and The Mavericks

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What did you have for breakfast this morning?


Well, let me tell you. It wouldn't be too hard for you to guess 'cause we talk about this a lot. I had a tortilla with mantequilla (laughter) because it's just the best little wake-me-up any-time-of-day snack, right?

CONTRERAS: We have been on a recent rant.

SAYRE: A rant, and we've just...


SAYRE: ...We've just been in our tortilla-with-mantequilla era.


SAYRE: We've both been really going for that lately.

CONTRERAS: Just remembering it all.

SAYRE: And I do think...

CONTRERAS: Comfort food.

SAYRE: ...What we have today for this very special, wonderful new music show is a little bit of tortilla with mantequilla.

CONTRERAS: (Laughter) Nice transition.

SAYRE: Thank you.


CONTRERAS: From NPR Music, you are listening to ALT.LATINO. I'm Felix Contreras.

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


CONTRERAS: We do have a lot of great music, and we're going to start with your choice. I'm going to give you the go ahead. Go ahead.

SAYRE: This one is going to - it's going to blow your socks off, Felix, I got to tell you.

CONTRERAS: OK, I'm ready.

SAYRE: I'm very excited. This first pick is off of one of probably my most highly anticipated albums of this year. It's Young Miko's new album - not sure how to say it, but it's at least spelled "att."


SAYRE: And I had so much trouble even picking a track from this record 'cause, safe to say, there's a lot to say about it in totality, but I'm playing a little bit of "tamagotchi" for you today.


YOUNG MIKO: (Singing) Esperando un par de caloría' he quema'o… Me tiene a dieta de hace tiempo y yo no sé por qué… Extraño en la mañana los vídeo' por text… Envíame algo, que falta pa' verte… El turno se ha acabado hoy… Portarme bien se me hace fuerte… Tiene que alimentarme como Tamagotchi… To' los día' de su cuerpo una dosi'… Baby, aunque sea por foto'… Cojo clase remote… Alimentarme como Tamagotchi… Estoy sin vida y necesito… Sí, aunque sea por foto'… Cojo clase remote… Dale, aunque yo esté lejito'… Baby, dame info, ven, vamo' a hacer algo…

SAYRE: So this is Young Miko's debut album. She released an EP, "TRAP KITTY," in 2022, and since then has gotten so much exposure, so much attention, but had not released her own full-length record before. Now, I consider Young Miko very much as the second phase of the evolution of what is feminism in Puerto Rican reggaeton? I mean, reggaeton has a history of being almost this working space or showcase for, you know, different types of thought. Ivy Queen famously subverted a lot of machismo ideals by being in control in reggaeton, being a woman who, you know, was asking and owning her own sexuality in what she did. Young Miko is, like, part two of that because she is, like, so seamless, not only in how she writes and what she creates, but also who she is and how she shows that in her music. She is extremely openly queer, proud about that, sings about it all the time.

But also what she does sonically is very interesting. I picked this song in particular because, I don't know, it almost has, like, three different phases that she goes through. She opens with this kind of, like, electronic, almost video-gamey, like, beat to it that I've heard in earlier-2000s songs used in almost like a silly kind of way, and she kind of legitimizes it against what ends up coming in as the dembow beat. That pulls away again, and she goes into this really cool, like, electric guitar build that's rocky and poppy.


SAYRE: She does everything in this track, in particular - on the album as a whole - but she doesn't explain it. She doesn't make excuses for it, and that's very much how she is as an artist. She's been seen as unapologetic, authentic, all of these things, but more importantly just herself. And she really, really came to play with that. She just honestly had a lot of fun with this record, which I think is emblematic of everything that she is and what she represents.

CONTRERAS: Two things - that is a long time between Ivy Queen and Young Miko. "Quiero Bailar" came out in 2003. We're talking now 21 years. So in between, the genre has gone through a lot of shapeshifting, lots of twists and turns, not always for the good. The misogyny in this genre was very, very blatant in the earliest days, and some say it hasn't completely gone away. There are challenges there for that because it did - there is such a long gap in between. I applaud her for, you know, what she's doing and the things that you've told me about her and shown me in her music. The other thing that strikes me is the way the beat, the (imitating music beat) - it's become so malleable. It's become so adaptive to so many different things. It's almost like, can you hear this? Like the heart is beating, right? And then it just - it's there, but then you put all this other stuff on top of it.

SAYRE: I can't imagine that any of the earliest reggaetoneros could have fathomed the way that that beat has metamorphed (ph) and transformed and been used in, I don't know, maybe, like, every single other Latin American country at this point. In some way, shape or form, it has been at least a baseline or something. It's now - in many ways, has become a base of pop music. At certain points in this country - I mean, I have a friend who says the first reggaetonero in the U.S. was actually Justin Bieber, and it was not "Despacito." There is an earlier track where you can hear what is the essence of a reggaeton beat in what we hear as a straight-ahead American pop song.


JUSTIN BIEBER: (Singing) I'm sorry.

SAYRE: So we've been pulling from this beat - Americans have been pulling from this beat for a long time, which is - it's interesting that you bring up that gap between Ivy and Young Miko because I think this is all part of that story. Right? Like, you see Ivy Queen bring this in. She's subversive. She's feminist. She's forward. "Yo Quiero Bailar" (ph) made it to a lot of different places. Not quite here in the way you would want it to, but still. And then all of a sudden, reggaeton becomes more and more mainstream. And, yeah, there's these male artists who bring it here, and there's male artists here who are experimenting with the sound. But then on the island, it was like the second revolution happened where women took over. And it's not just Young Miko. You have Villano Antillano. You have, like, Tokischa. You have all - Tokischa's Dominican, but you have all of these artists who are now, like, the owners. They're the pioneers. They're pushing past Bad Bunny. They're doing more innovative stuff. So it's really inspiring.

CONTRERAS: Sounds like we should do a show on updating...

SAYRE: On the update to reggaeton?

CONTRERAS: Yeah, we could have a much longer conversation, and it'll take away from the rest of the songs we have to hear.

SAYRE: There is one other very cool, full-circle thing about this record, which - she had barely any collaborators. So, like, Villano Antillano, Elena Rose, who's the beautiful female vocalist from Venezuela, and then she had Jowell and Randy on too, which is, like, really taking old school, and it almost feels like a stamp, an endorsement from them on what is this new wave. So she really brought, like, quite the intentional mix of people together.

CONTRERAS: That was Young Miko with the track "Tamagotchi" from the album "att." - or a te te.

SAYRE: You sounded very radio announcer when you did that.

CONTRERAS: "A-T-T-period."

SAYRE: We're just playing some cool jams today. What do you got, Felix?

CONTRERAS: I brought in something new from the Mavericks. They've got a new record coming out. Let's hear the song. And then for those who don't know, the Mavericks will fill them in. This is called "Moon and Stars."


THE MAVERICKS AND SIERRA FERRELL: (Singing) Heaven's got the moon and stars. Funny how they always are shining down from high above, never giving up on love. I just can't imagine - can you? - a world with little laughter. How blue. But on this you can rely. Take a look up to the sky. Heaven's got the moon and stars. Funny how they always are...

CONTRERAS: That is the unmistakable voice of Raul Malo. Remember, a couple of weeks ago we were talking to Carrie Rodriguez and we mentioned Raul Malo?

SAYRE: Yes. Of course. How could I forget?

CONTRERAS: OK, well, it - then this is the real thing. This is Raul Malo from the new album "Moon And Stars" by the Mavericks. It features of country vocalist Sierra Ferrell, who apparently is an up-and-coming country artist, according to our editor, Hazel Cills.


THE MAVERICKS AND FERRELL: (Singing) You can set your sail to sea. Maybe we can all agree (vocalizing).

CONTRERAS: This is their first record after they did an all-Spanish record back in 2020, which was a huge hit. And that particular record was a very, very big step away from what they were known for in terms of just being in the Hall of Fame, Americana artist, country rock, all of the things that make them so amazing and has made them so amazing for decades.

SAYRE: So, Felix, not that I'm ever one to rehash old arguments, but you know how we kept talking about, like, what is this concept of Latin country? Does it exist? Blah, blah, blah. And obviously we mentioned them in the last episode about Latin music, country music, et cetera. This to me literally felt like a perfect exemplar of what that could be. It's like you are literally layering really nice country vocals right on that accordion. You have a little bit of a bumping marimba. But it was, like, exactly what you could think of when you imagine like, oh, what is what is a Latin country sound? You're going to disagree with me.


SAYRE: I can see it in your face.


SAYRE: Say it.

CONTRERAS: Because it's genres that are already there. Right? This has a little bit of a slow bolero feel...

SAYRE: Sure.

CONTRERAS: ...With country vocals laid over on top of it. So it's a country song that's on top of a bolero.

SAYRE: You just said what I just said, but sure (laughter).

CONTRERAS: But I would never call it Latin country because it's Flaco Jiménez Latin country. You know, he's Tejano who plays on country music.

SAYRE: Is any genre a certain genre until some label exec says it is? I mean, nothing's anything. But...


SAYRE: ...If we were trying to imagine what it could sound like, I mean, it does incorporate two of those things.

CONTRERAS: This, to me, is Mavericks music. That's what they do. So I don't know if we're - if you have to give it a label, as we heard from Linda Martell on the Beyonce album, genres are tricky, and they slide back and forth. But I think you have to be true to the artist. Make a reference to the artist. People hear the name Mavericks, and they're going to know what to expect. And if you're new to the Mavericks, then what you hear, it's - you're never going to forget it. Because that's - they've been doing it for so long, and they do it so well.

SAYRE: Out of curiosity, if someone came to you - you're like - you never heard the Mavericks. You're like, you got to listen to this band. They are...

CONTRERAS: How would I describe them?

SAYRE: Yeah.

CONTRERAS: They've always been an Americana band to me - Americana, countryish, country rock thing, very Austin-like in a way. There's a whole school. There's a whole style. And I think it goes back to - I guess it was the '60s when Merle Haggard and Buck Owens really, like, reversed the trend of all the syrupy strings and high-production country music. And they just started playing honky-tonk music with rock 'n' roll instruments. And so it was - that's what this reminds me of, going back to folks who push back against the established order with their own perspective and their own sound. That's what the Mavericks have done for me over the years. And then some of these other artists now that we're hearing. All that to say that I can't wait to hear the rest of the record because their last record was all Spanish-language - a lot of cumbia, a lot of accordions, and I just want to hear them - what's next for them.

Because they - again, it's a conversation about mid-career artists. How do you keep going? How do you keep being creative? How do you go to that well and dig deep into that well and find a way to express yourself that's going to keep you, as an artist, engaged, entertained, and then keep the audience in the fold, wanting some of the same, but then also accepting the new. That's what I think of when I think of bands like the Mavericks. And this track, "Moon And Stars," is a good example of what we might be able to hear.


THE MAVERICKS AND FERRELL: (Singing) ...Never giving up on love (vocalizing).

CONTRERAS: "Moon And Stars" is the name of the track. The album comes out in May - next month, May 17, so keep an eye out for it.

SAYRE: And we'll be back to all of our favorite new music right after this.

CONTRERAS: And we're back to talk about this way-cool new music. So now, strap in.

SAYRE: OK. Ooh, this one's good. So, Felix, you may have already...

CONTRERAS: And the other one wasn't good?

SAYRE: Oh, well, the other one wasn't my pick, so I don't know (laughter).

CONTRERAS: Oh, my God. OK.

SAYRE: No, I did really like that one. It made me - I like thinking of desert night stars. That's what it made me think of.


SAYRE: Anyways, you may have already heard this one, Felix. But Angelica Garcia - she is the epitome of, like, an LA Latino. She's Salvadorian and Mexican. She grew up in El Monte in East LA. So she's been kind of slowly but surely unraveling, unpacking, discussing that identity in her music. This track that I'm about to play you is called "Juanita." It was the first of now two singles that she's released off of her upcoming album "Gemelo," which is her first full-length Spanish album.


ANGÉLICA GARCIA: (Singing) Juanita, Juanita, Juani… ¿Por qué me llamas? ¿Cuál es la fuerza que motiva? Me hiciste despertar… Tu voz el sonido de estrellas… Ni dioses te pueden dibujar… Juanita, Juanita, Juani… ¿Por qué me llamas? Es mi derecho saberlo… ¿Puedo descansar? Ya he tomado la botella… Óigame cuando le digo que me cuesta el dolor… Cuánto cuesta mi amor… Paso tiempo en el infierno… Quemo, verte alejarte… Juanita, Juanita.

SAYRE: So like I mentioned, she's released two tracks off of her upcoming album, "Gemelo," which means "Twin." And I actually decided to play the earlier release. So there is one more recently that's called "Color De Dolor." But I wanted to talk about this first one because I very much see these tracks as being twins. She talks a lot about pain in both of them, and that's a large part of this concept she has for the album around thinking of the spirit and the body themselves as twins and what that says about her and her identity, and pain is obviously a huge and reoccurring theme of that. More specifically, in both of these tracks, she sings dolor with these really beautiful, open, painful vocals. And so it's really interesting to hear them stacked one against the other. But I love that electrocumbia beat. I know you were dancing to it, Felix. It's really amazing.

CONTRERAS: It reminded me of something that I was going to say during our conversation about reggaeton, and about the dembow beat, and about how it's just so prevalent. You know, this - that reggaeton beat could be the new cumbia. You know, it could be considered the new cumbia because every country has its own version of cumbia. It came from Colombia originally, but the Peruvian chicha, the Mexican tropical - like, every country - Argentina has its own version. It's again another genre that's become adaptable to whatever the musicians in that particular culture bring to it.

SAYRE: But you know what? I think it already is in some ways, Felix. Like, it's the biggest style in Chile. It's the biggest style in Argentina. But you know what else is making its way around too, is a lot of the regional sounds are doing what reggaeton was doing a couple years ago.

CONTRERAS: Interesting.

SAYRE: The other thing I was going to say, too, is I think this actually connects to your Mavericks point, because something I thought was really interesting that she's said about this record specifically is that it's challenging the notion that singing in English is a prerequisite for creating American music.

CONTRERAS: I like that a lot.


GARCIA: (Singing) Juanita, Juanita, Juani… ¿Por qué me llamas? Juanita, Juanita, Juani… ¿Por qué me llamas?

SAYRE: Angélica Garcia, "Juanita," off of her upcoming album "Gemelo."

CONTRERAS: I really like that "Gemelo" concept, the twin concept of spirit and the body.

SAYRE: And just this idea that pain is intrinsic to that relationship is - it's really powerful.

CONTRERAS: It's sort of the basis for Buddhist thought. Like, suffering is part of that philosophy, so that you can understand and know where to put the suffering. OK? You're not trying to live a life without suffering. You're trying to control the suffering, in this case, the pain. And there's also a mind-body-spirit thing in some of that philosophy as well. So it's a very - there's a lot of deep stuff in this track, man.

SAYRE: I remember when I took a class on Buddhism in college, I was going around for months talking about how I was carrying around my cart of suffering, because that really resonated with me (laughter). I was like, life is suffering. We're all just wheeling around with our cart of suffering.


CONTRERAS: It's sort of the idea, yeah. Did you get an A in that class?

SAYRE: Yep. I read the Wikipedia page right before the final on Buddhism and I got an A (laughter).

CONTRERAS: Man, college...

SAYRE: I learned a lot.

CONTRERAS: Yeah, college would have gone a lot quicker if we had Wikipedia back in 1976.

SAYRE: Oh, yeah.


CONTRERAS: OK. Moving on. I brought in a track from a guy named Alejandro Escovedo, and he is another musician very much like Raul Malo from The Mavericks. Raul is Cuban American from Miami, and he's led this Americana band, right? So he's - he has never shied away from his identity. He's always been very, very proud of it. But it's never been an, you know, an integral part of the music that they make. He's found his home in a way, to express himself in another genre and another tradition. Alejandro Escovedo is the same way. He's Mexican American, settled in Texas, in Austin. He's sort of like the mayor of Austin. He's been there a long time. He's a rocker. He's a punk rocker. He was in one of the bands that opened for the Sex Pistols in Winterland in 1978. OK? So he's, like, very hardcore punk.

And over the years he's had this amazing kind of elastic career, always centered on a punk ethos, but all these different elements that he brings into his music. He's got a hardcore ride-or-die fan base. And they accept everything that he does. He has such a grand musical vision that he tries different things, and they always go along for the ride on him. He has a new record out. It's called "Echo Dancing." This is a track called "Castañuelas." Check out his voice. Check out the atmospheric sonic stuff. Check out Alejandro Escovedo.


ALEJANDRO ESCOVEDO: (Singing) Yeah, she plays castanets. Toca castañuelas. Hey, hey, hey, hey. Toca castañuelas. Move, move like rhythm train. Toca castañuelas. The way, way she dances... Oi, hey. Moves, moves like a rhythm train. Toca castañuelas. Love the way, love the way she walks away. Toca castañuelas. Love how the sun, the sun silhouettes. Love her hair, love her hair in a tangled mess. Toca castañuelas.

CONTRERAS: I cheated a little bit, OK? Because I played a track that is - it's sort of unlike the rest of the album. The rest of the album is very rocky, right? It's very...

SAYRE: You're sitting there realizing like, hmmm...

CONTRERAS: No, because - but I wanted to play that track because it's an example of how he plays with sound, how he plays with rhythm, how he plays with all kinds of different traditions. For me, this is one of the tracks that stands out on the record.

SAYRE: See, it's hilarious because I didn't look at your description, and I - my only note to myself was roquero cumbia king.

CONTRERAS: Yeah, it's...

SAYRE: Like, that's what I got (laughter)l

CONTRERAS: It's - he's not necessarily known for cumbia, but in this case, he does.

SAYRE: But, you know what's funny is, like, as you describe both Raul from The Mavericks, his origins, and then Alejandro's as well - it's not, like - you know, someone else might look at these artists and say, well, these are just Latinos living in the U.S. making this style of music. But a Miami Cuban making music with an Americana sound - that's like someone - to me, like someone from Colombia making rancheras. And someone from Southern California who's making this style of music - at the very least, it's, like, someone from Mexico City making norteño.

You know, there's not exactly this supernatural, original synergy in some ways to whatever they probably grew up listening to. So in that sense, it makes sense to me that they're really - like, so many of these artists - really unbeholden to, like, restrictions of genre or restrictions of what they think they're supposed to sound like because all bets are off. They experiment in an entirely different space.

CONTRERAS: See, that's the beauty of folks from your generation, your age, because you didn't grow up in the record stores where - OK, I got to go to the country section over here, and I got to go over to the Latin section over here. Record stores were divided by genre, which - we used to think, oh, that's a good thing. I know where - I'm going to go to the jazz section, right? But if they were just - maybe if they were mixed in alphabetically. You know what I mean?

SAYRE: Yeah.

CONTRERAS: Because that's what - that's how you guys experience music. You put it on YouTube, Spotify, whatever. You start streaming music. And my son, Joaquín - he starts streaming music and then all kinds of things come in 'cause he's listening to these things that get fed into the algorithm through YouTube or whatever.

SAYRE: Well - and, you know what's so funny too is, like, what's so popular on Spotify is all these curated playlists, right? Like, the algorithm curates your music tastes. And the descriptors on, let's say, like, a day list, right? They give you fresh playlists, like, three times a day. The descriptions are, like, silly, smiley, pop-y (ph), sad. Like, they're not genres. They're, like, adjectives, or they're colors, or they're feelings. It's, like, an entirely different way to describe - which is a lot more akin to what it feels like to listen to music, right?

CONTRERAS: Yeah. The interesting part is that it makes us reconsider identity, tradition, genre, etc.

SAYRE: It's like, oh, my goodness. Music is just for enjoyment. So what if we stopped thinking about how to label it, and we just liked it?

CONTRERAS: Let's try that on the next song.

SAYRE: (Laughter).

CONTRERAS: Alejandro Escovedo - track called "Castañuelas." You are listening to ALT.LATINO. We're listening to new music, maybe with new ears and new ways of looking at things. What's your next pick?

SAYRE: OK. So this next one I'm really excited about. I think you're going to like it, Felix.


SAYRE: OK, good.

CONTRERAS: I like it a lot.

SAYRE: 'Cause I was like, you're either going to hate it, or you're going to love it.


SAYRE: This is very special because it is a reinterpretation, reimagining, contemporary take on "Veinte Años," the bolero that was made popular by Omara Portuondo with Buena Vista Social Club. Now, these are some two very exciting contemporary artists that I love a lot, Nella and Yendry, who we've had on the show before. And they did a really captivating duet.


NELLA AND YENDRY: (Singing) Si las cosas, que uno quiere se pudieran alcanzar, tú me quisieras lo mismo que veinte años atrás… Con qué tristeza miramos un amor que se nos va… Es un pedazo del alma que se arranca sin piedad…

SAYRE: How lovely is that? It's so, like, almost chilling, the way that they did it. But their two voices together are so unique, so interesting to listen to. They have that really lovely synth-and-electric-guitar-driven beat, and then it's really grounded in these vocals.

What is so fascinating to me about this, too, is you have such a collection of artists, of geographies in this. I mean, as we know, Yendry is Dominican born, Italian raised. Nella is Venezuelan but studied in Berklee in Valencia, and a lot of her songs are very Andalusian-inspired. And then she had a whole team of Spanish people working on this record, one of which came in with María José Llergo.

So all kinds of people collaborating here - and you get the most unique take on what is this traditional bolero, and the two of them together just blended perfectly. I mean, you hear Yendry almost sounding a little bit flamenco at certain points. You hear Nella just sounding so soulful and gorgeous. I really liked this.

CONTRERAS: It takes a lot of guts to take on something that is so much associated with another vocalist. You really have to figure out, OK, what am I going to bring to it that's special? And when I just looked at it on paper, on a note that we prepare for ourselves, I'm like, oh, no. Really? They - of all the songs that they could try to do - but they do. They nailed it. They nailed it by making the arrangement just a little different than we expect. It's the arrangement, for me. Again, it's, you know - it's - you know, you listen...

SAYRE: (Laughter).

CONTRERAS: ...To the words. I listen to the music. I really loved the arrangement with the acoustic guitar and all that stuff, and I love the way that they reimagined it. And their style of singing - each individual is so different. It takes a lot of guts to take on something so prolific. It's very much like - and we mentioned this earlier. It's very much like Beyonce taking on "Blackbird," Paul McCartney's song. Like, what are you going to bring to that? Everybody has covered it, but none is better than the original. Now, I'm not saying that the - that Beyonce's version, or in this case, this version is better than the one we know from Omara Portuondo. But I think they exist side by side, man, because this is really powerful.

SAYRE: It's so special to me, too, because we're talking about - you know, we talked about twins and things that kind of fit nicely together and their voices, like you said, they're unique, but they almost sound like twin voices to me or at least, like, foils of each other. Like, they're really unique in their own ways, but this song is not, at least the way I think of it, traditionally a duetted track, right? Like, it's very spotlighted on the one forlorn lover character. And then you bring these two young vocalists together and harmonize, and their voices blend perfectly. And it's just telling an entirely different story to me at that point.

CONTRERAS: Love this track. Good call.

SAYRE: Thank you, Felix.

CONTRERAS: All the stuff you brought in today is...


CONTRERAS: ...Very good. Yeah. All right. OK, we're going to end this show with a little bit of whiplash, but not really. I don't know. We're going to certainly raise the energy level a little bit. What? What's funny?

SAYRE: Felix, is like, Ana's songs are boring. I'm bringing the party (laughter).

CONTRERAS: That's not - you usually bring the party, but you must be in an introspective mood.

SAYRE: I'm always in an introspective mood (laughter).

CONTRERAS: Remember we were talking about Alejandro Escovedo? Well, I brought in a new track by Sheila E. or Sheila Escovedo.


GLORIA ESTEFAN: (Singing) Repica, Sheila… Hermana…

CONTRERAS: She's got her first-ever salsa album called "Bailar." There's a lot to talk about it, but I think we ought to just hear it. She's doing a cover of a Celia Cruz classic called "Bemba Colorá," and Gloria Estefan is the lead vocal. How's that for a one-two punch? Gloria Estefan and Sheila E. Also features a vocalist named Mimy Succar. And it starts out with a little Afro Cuban guaguancó, which you heard in Cuba a few months ago. Check this one out.


ESTEFAN: (Singing) Pa' mí, tú no eres na'… Tú tiene' la bemba colorá… Pa' mí, pa' mí, pa' mí tú no eres na'… Tú tiene' la bemba colorá…

MIMY SUCCAR: (Singing) Baila tu rumba, canta tu son…

GLORIA ESTEFAN, MIMY SUCCAR AND SHEILA ESCOVEDA: (Singing) Tu guarachita y tu danzón, ay.

SUCCAR: (Singing) Pa' mí, tú no eres na'.

ESTEFAN, SUCCAR AND ESCOVEDA: (Singing) Tú tienes la bemba colorá…

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) Pa' mí, tú no eres na'… Tú tienes la bemba colorá…

SUCCAR: (Singing) Oye, pa' mí, pa' mí, pa' mí tú no eres na'…

CONTRERAS: As the kids say - fire.


CONTRERAS: Come on, Ana, don't laugh at me. I'm trying to be cool.

SAYRE: No, you nailed it - usage 100% accurate.

CONTRERAS: Sheila E. is known for a lot of different things - R&B, funk, her association with Prince. That's what Sheila E. is known for. I know her as Sheila Escovedo, and I've been paying attention to her career because I know her as an Afro Cuban percussionist from the time that she was a kid. I literally saw her when she was, like, 16 years old playing with her dad's band out in an auditorium in California - Davis, Calif., back in, like, '75 or so. So she has to me always been this master conga player, timbale player, drummer, all the stuff that goes along with Afro Cuban music.

And when we had her on the show a while back, we talked a little bit about that and where it all came from. So you should go back and listen to that podcast because she came up in a family in the Bay Area that was, like, the musical dynasty of Afro Cuban music, curiously performed by Mexican Americans because her dad, Pete Escovedo, her uncle Thomas, who was known as Coke, they were part of this Afro Cuban thing in the Bay Area forever, which has a long, strong tradition of Afro Cuban music. So they are part of that, and she's part of that dynasty that continues. And this is, believe it or not, in her long career, her first ever salsa album.

SAYRE: I loved this track so much, Felix, because specifically the fact that she brought - it was her. It's Gloria. It's Mimy. Like, when you talk about what is all the time these women just completely in their own power, just having realized themselves, and they're talented, and they're strong, and they're, like, poderosas, I was like, that is what I felt with this track. Like, just the way that they do this incredible kind of - like, all of the drumming, and then they break into that beautiful salsa rhythm. I mean, it's incredible to listen to.

I also thought it was so funny - as you're talking about this, you talked about the fact that there are these Mexicans in San Francisco doing these Afro Cuban beats, and that's so emblematic of California - right? - or of the Mexican experience in this country. It's kind of like, oh, we kind of just cover everything. Like, for a long time, I feel like we just kind of covered everything in terms of, like, Latinoness (ph). It's like, oh, well, we can do the Cuban thing. We can do the Salvadorian thing. We can - 'cause there weren't as many members of the diaspora here, right? It was, like, Mexicans kind of had to represent. The fact that you even said Escovedo. It's so, like, Chicano of you, you know?

CONTRERAS: Instead of Escovedo?

SAYRE: You're like, Sheila Escovedo, but her dad is Escovedo because that's...

CONTRERAS: Did I say that?

SAYRE: You said Escovedo (laughter). It's like Selena, you know? It's like we make our own, like, things our own. It's its own culture, right?

CONTRERAS: Yeah, I guess so. I hadn't noticed that.

SAYRE: Yeah. That's what you were raised on.

CONTRERAS: Yeah. What's curious about all of this too, is that the attraction to Afro Cuban music by these Mexican American musicians who were in the Bay Area, Oakland and San Francisco - it wasn't Mexican music. Mexican music wasn't cool until Los Lobos came along in the '80s. So all my friends growing up, and when we were going to college, if you were cool, if you were listening to stuff that's ahead of the curve, you were listening to (inaudible) from the 1970s. You were listening to Afro Caribbean music. And the Mexican music was our parents' music. And it was, you know, it wasn't a thing. Flaco Jiménez wasn't a thing. Accordions weren't cool until Los Lobos brought them along. That's always made me wonder, why? Why the attraction to Afro Cuban music and why, like, putting the - compartmentalize the Mexican music. That's a topic for another conversation. But that is what's at play here, because Sheila is, you know, part of that long story arc of the attraction to Afro Caribbean music. And this record - she's got lots of great vocal collaborations with established salsa singers like Rubén Blades, Gilberto Santa Rosa and of course, Gloria Estefan. She's part of that long story arc, and that all comes together on this really, really great record. You're not going to sit still on this record. There are no ballads, OK? There are no boleros. There are no slow songs. It's all get on the floor and dance stuff.

SAYRE: But to your point, Felix, about Mexican sounds not being cool. It's like even when you think about a lot of the earliest crossover artists, right? Like, think about, like, Ritchie Valens or something. There was no one really doing distinctly Mexican sounds in that way. Like, even - it's like the Chicano rock movement became a thing, but it was an adoption of other styles, again. It was the actual, like, Mexican, super purely Mexican-sounding music didn't come for way, way, way, way, way longer. Yeah. Hearing really, like, Mexican-sounding music created by Mexican Americans is recent, practically. It's been, like, a century of everything else.

CONTRERAS: (Laughter) Is this...

SAYRE: (Laughter).

CONTRERAS: Is that a dig at my age again? Again?

SAYRE: It wasn't.

CONTRERAS: (Laughter).

SAYRE: See, I'm, like - you - I just say things.

CONTRERAS: All right. OK. OK.

SAYRE: Then you set yourself up.

CONTRERAS: I'm not over-sensitive.

SAYRE: It's on the record that you did that twice this episode.

CONTRERAS: No, but that is - you make a good point. Yeah, absolutely. There's a whole different school of thought. There's a lot of different ways to incorporate Mexican music into the contemporary music scene. And the Afro Caribbean music has just been a lot more popular and a lot more accessible and a lot more visible, even to the point now where you go into a Mexican restaurant, and they're playing salsa instead of mariachi. Don't even get me started on that. Talk about pet peeve - that's a whole different thing.

SAYRE: See, and my pet peeve, Felix, is I went to a Bad Bunny boxing class this weekend and they played half Shakira. I was like, it's the same thing (laughter)

CONTRERAS: OK, we're going to end the show right there, OK? I don't even want to - you have been listening to ALT.LATINO with Felix Contreras and Ana Boom-Boom...


CONTRERAS: ...Anamaria Boom-Boom Sayre.

SAYRE: Do you want to come next time? He said boom-boom (laughter)...

CONTRERAS: No, I'll pass, man. I'll pass.

SAYRE: Our audio producer for this episode is walking Joaquin Cotler. HR is going to come get me for this episode, man.


CONTRERAS: Have fun cutting this one, Joaquin. We're all over the place. Our editor is Hazel Cills, our project manager - let's give her her title - is Grace Chung.

SAYRE: Suraya Mohamed is the executive producer of NPR Music and our jefe-in-chief, VP of music and visuals, Keith Jenkins. Now, if you liked what you heard or didn't like what you heard today, it was kind of fun - people wrote in last time I said this. So write in. Felix doesn't check the email, but I do.

CONTRERAS: That's because you don't let me. You got to give me the password.

SAYRE: And I promise I'll write back eventually. This is like giving a preview to people. I'm really bad at responding to texts. And it's, like, takes like minimum a month. But I will write back to everyone, and it's really cool. So The dot is weird, I know. It was, like, the early 2000s. I don't know what to tell you. But - we'd love to hear what you think about the show.

CONTRERAS: And before we go, let me remind you to listen to the All Songs Considered podcast, where I sat down with host Robin Hilton to talk about a bunch of way cool music, including the Sheila E. album. Listen to it wherever you get your podcasts. I'm Felix Contreras.

SAYRE: I'm Anamaria Sayre. Thanks for listening.

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