An 'Alt.Latino' Christmas : Alt.Latino Alt.Latino hosts Felix Contreras and Jasmine Garsd join Weekend Edition Saturday's Scott Simon to discuss modern interpretations of traditional Latin holiday music.
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An 'Alt.Latino' Christmas

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An 'Alt.Latino' Christmas

An 'Alt.Latino' Christmas

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Holiday traditions in Latin American run the gamut, from Texas to Tierre del Fuego. There are parrandas, from Puerto Rico; pastorelas, from Mexico; and Christmas trees and mistletoe, from the United States. To help us put a contemporary spin on some of these traditions, we're joined by Felix Contreras and Jasmine Garsd, co-hosts of ALT.LATINO, NPR's new, web-based show about Latin alternative music. Thank you both for being with us.

SIMON: Thank you for having us.

SIMON: Thanks for having us.

SIMON: First, we've got to note: It's the weather - because it's not winter, as we understand it, in Latin America, is it?

SIMON: In the Southern Hemisphere, it's summer - and it's really hot right now.

SIMON: So for places like Brazil, a white Christmas means white sandy beaches. And one of those beaches we're going to go to is the Dominican Republic. We're going to stop there first and play a song in a style that's known as bachata.


AVENTURA: (Singing in Spanish)

SIMON: What is bachata?

SIMON: And these guys singing this song are the self-proclaimed kings of bachata, Aventura.

SIMON: Felix, what do you have for us?

SIMON: We're going to stay Caribbean-based, except we're going to go back up to New York. We're going to do something from the Fania label, that was popular in the mid to late-'70s. And a cut featuring the vocalist Hector Lavoe.


SIMON: (Singing in Spanish)

SIMON: This, from the '70s?

SIMON: And I guess you can consider it like a modern take on the parrandas. Parrandas were like get-togethers that happened in the rural countryside during the Christmas season - just small, little get-togethers. And this is, I guess, a New York City-style version.

SIMON: Right. Now, you've got something now, Jasmine?

SIMON: Yes. I'm keeping it in Puerto Rico with reggaeton - a remake of a very traditional - I wouldn't call it a Christmas - it's like a holiday spirit party, drinking song. And it's by reggaeton artist Tito El Bambino, from Puerto Rico.


SIMON: (Singing in Spanish)

SIMON: It's kind of about - just the drinking spirit. You know, it starts off saying, you know, of all of mama's boys, I'm the big rooster. I'm the most extreme rum drinker. And you know, it's...

SIMON: That's a good translation.

SIMON: And it's a very traditional holiday song that was actually made popular several decades ago by a Puerto Rican group, Los Cantores de San Juan. But it's redone in reggaeton, which is a super popular style right now. I mean, there's - probably any car with young Latinos that drives by, you're going to hear that bumping reggaeton bass sound.

SIMON: Reggaeton is a combination of hip-hop - the influence of hip-hop - and then Puerto Rican rhythms and Panamanian rhythms, and stuff like that. It's really a true hybrid of contemporary music with traditional music.

SIMON: And when we talk about the holidays, I mean, the holidays is a term we have to use in Latin America too, isn't it?

SIMON: Because there is a substantial Jewish population there as well, throughout, sprinkled throughout Latin America. And we're going to play a song, "The Dreidel Song," next.


INSKEEP: Felix, this is English.


SIMON: It's a reflection of the...

SIMON: I know. The multicultural nature of Latin America - don't get me wrong.

SIMON: Well, this is an interesting group. They're based in New York. There's a Colombian; there's a Dominican. They're called Patto Massive(ph), and they are part of this wave - the thing that we're doing. We're doing the Latin alternative music, and this is less traditional. Not exactly super, super popular but still, very interesting mix of genres and styles. And that's what they're doing. You know, the Colombian, the Dominican, doing a Brazilian- influenced song about dreidels, in English.


SIMON: Wow. You hear just so many influences going on in that, don't you?

SIMON: That's one of the things - is interesting, that I think is fascinating about the whole Latin alternative scene, and some of the things that we try to cover in our show. I say, borders don't exist anymore - you know, stylistic borders, geographic borders. There's just so many things that all - get all mixed in with advances in technology, and people can listen to anything. This is a very good example of some of the stuff that we're discovering on the show.

SIMON: Yeah. Because you make a point on ALT.LATINO of not doing just traditional, what we think of as traditional Latin music.

SIMON: We focus on both. We focus on, you know, really new stuff that's coming out. But of course, you can't ignore - or we wouldn't want to. I mean, we want to celebrate, also, all the traditions that are informing that awesome, new music.

SIMON: Felix, I don't know if this comes into the alt category, but it wouldn't be NPR if I didn't mention this is the 40th anniversary of a great, classic Christmas song.

SIMON: It's the 40th anniversary of a song that we all know and love.


SIMON: (Singing) Feliz Navidad, Feliz Navidad, Feliz Navidad, prospero ano y felicidad. Feliz...

SIMON: Now, the last time our show was on Christmas, we were honored - and I do mean honored - to have Jose Feliciano on the show, actually singing "Feliz Navidad."

SIMON: Really?

SIMON: I remember that, yeah.

SIMON: And the success of his song really contributed something to the transforming nature of music.

SIMON: The cultural impact, I think, is what's important here, and how he was able to reach out and make us all a little bilingual - at least, once a year.

SIMON: So, thanks so much for being with us. Happy holidays.

SIMON: Happy holidays to you. Feliz Navidad.

SIMON: Feliz Navidad.

SIMON: Feliz Navidad. How could I - how could I possibly...

SIMON: Y Feliz Ano Nuevo.

SIMON: Y prospero Ano Nuevo.

SIMON: Oh, gracias.

SIMON: Muchas gracias, Scott.

SIMON: Felix Contreras and Jasmine Garsd. You can find their show, ALT.LATINO, at NPR's music site and


SIMON: (Singing) ...I wanna wish you a merry Christmas from the bottom of my heart. I wanna wish you a merry Christmas. I wanna wish you a merry Christmas. I wanna wish you a merry Christmas from the bottom of my heart.

SIMON: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Feliz Navidad and Merry Shabbos. I'm Scott Simon.

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