'El Tiny': A Sampler Of Latin Bands At NPR's Tiny Desk : Alt.Latino Latin music is well represented in the popular Tiny Desk Concert series.

'El Tiny': A Sampler Of Latin Bands At NPR's Tiny Desk

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FELIX CONTRERAS (HOST): From NPR Music, this is ALT.LATINO. I'm Felix Contreras. El Tiny - that's what many musicians from Latin America are now calling the Tiny Desk Concert, NPR Music's very popular feature of live performances from behind Bob Boilen's desk here in NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C. Now, since 2009, there have been almost 800 Tiny Desk performances, and they include just about every form of music under the sun. There are approximately 70 that we could classify as some form of Latin music - folkloric, Latin jazz, classical, rock, electronic, experimental, pop - we've tried to be as inclusive as possible. And this week, we're going to feature a handful of those performances. And I say we because I had to bring in some help. I asked singer-songwriter and Tiny Desk Concert alum Gina Chavez to help me out. Gina, welcome back to ALT.LATINO.

GINA CHAVEZ (MUSICAL ARTIST): What's up? What's up? Very excited to be here.

CONTRERAS: And we have to say right from the beginning - right? - that these are not what we consider the best or the top in any way, shape or form. We're not taking sides here. What we want to do is show the variety of Latin music expression available in the Tiny Desk archive. But, Gina, I did ask you to limit your choices to four.

CHAVEZ: You did. The entire time I was like, oh, this one's really good. Oh, this one's really good. Oh, my gosh, this one's really - (laughter).

CONTRERAS: OK. What's your first choice?

CHAVEZ: I'm going to go with Drexler.


CONTRERAS: Jorge Drexler's Tiny Desk performance was published on April 13 of this year - of 2018. And what's notable about this performance is it was the first time that we included translations on the screen, and that was arranged with Jorge Drexler himself because I wanted to really show people who don't speak Spanish the immense talent he has in his lyrics and his writing.


JORGE DREXLER (MUSICAL ARTIST): (Singing) Siguiendo la manada de bisontes, más allá del horizonte, a nuevas tierras lejanas. Los niños a la espalda y expectantes. Los ojos en alerta, todo oídos, olfateando aquel desconcertante paisaje nuevo, desconocido.

CHAVEZ: I've been a fan of Jorge Drexler for a long time. But you're right, I don't even know how to describe it. It's like he's so poetic, but he's playful. He's very smart with, you know, how he uses his words and kind of mixes that with the meaning of the music. I don't know, it's like stars in the sky or something. There's something very magical about it.


DREXLER: (Singing) Vivos porque estamos en movimiento. Nunca estamos quietos, somos trashumantes. Somos padres, hijos, nietos y bisnietos de inmigrantes. Es más mío lo que sueño, que lo que toco. Yo no soy de aquí...

CHAVEZ: The other thing I really love about this song - and maybe a bit of a theme in some of my choices - is here in this country, we're - and I think all over the world - we're really kind of dealing with this crisis of how to treat immigrants, how to treat immigration itself. And so I love that this song is about movimiento and he talks about immigrantes and he talks about how to be human is to be in movement, in motion, and that, you know, if you want something to die, then let it sit still.


DREXLER: (Singing) Atravesamos desiertos, glaciares, continentes. El mundo entero de extremo a extremo. Empecinados, supervivientes. El ojo en el viento y en las corrientes. La mano firme en el remo. Cargamos con nuestras guerras, nuestras canciones de cuna, nuestro rumbo hecho de versos, de migraciones, de hambrunas, y así ha sido desde siempre, desde el infinito. Fuimos la gota de agua viajando en el meteorito. Cruzamos galaxias, vacíos milenios. Buscábamos oxígeno, encontramos sueños. Apenas nos pusimos en dos pies y nos vimos en la sombra de la hoguera, escuchamos la voz del desafío, siempre miramos el río. Pensando en la otra rivera. Somos una especie en viaje. No tenemos pertenencias, sino equipaje. Nunca estamos quietos, somos trashumantes, somos padres, hijos, nietos y bisnietos de inmigrantes. Es más mío lo que sueño que lo que toco. Yo no soy de aquí. pero tú tampoco. Yo no soy de aquí, pero tú tampoco. De ningún lado del todo y de todos lados un poco. Lo mismo con las canciones, los pájaros, los alfabetos. Si quieres que algo se muera, déjalo quieto.


DREXLER: Muy bien, muy bien. Muy bien, qué feliz, sí.

CONTRERAS: That was the music of Jorge Drexler from NPR Music's Tiny Desk Concert series, which is what we're featuring this week - the Latin music that is featured in the Tiny Desk archive. And it goes back to 2009, so there's a lot of stuff to choose from - over 70 Latin music artists of different styles and different genres. And that's what we're going to feature. And this next artist is one that I think is typical of how we're able to bring in some very dynamic and fascinating folk music artists.


BETSAYDA MACHADO (MUSICAL ARTIST): (Singing) Aquí te estoy esperando...

CONTRERAS: This next performer is Betsayda Machado y Parranda El Clavo. They are Afro-Venezuelan. And the best part about watching these videos is the magic of the percussion in this particular group because, Gina, they had percussion instruments that I'd never seen before. And they were using, like, these hollowed-out, big, giant pieces of bamboo.

CHAVEZ: Yeah, and they're just, like, tapping them, right?

CONTRERAS: Right, on the desk or on these bricks. And they are making different sounds. It's really a fascinating performance And powerful vocals, great percussion. This is Betsayda Machado and this track is called "Alae Alao."


MACHADO: (Singing) El ritmo de esos palitos, alelele, se los dedico a Belén. Ale, de la región de Tapipa. Alelele, que los supo recorrer. Ale, alalalalala. Ale, se le llama Jijitla (ph). Dame en este vuelta y la otra. Alelele, voy a cambiar la tonada. Ale, qué venga el tambor redondo. Alelele, para que puedan bailar. Ale. No me pegues Mayoral.

CONTRERAS: Betsayda Machado y Parranda El Clavo from Venezuela on ALT.LATINO this week, as we explore the Latin Music archive of the Tiny Desk Concert here - El Tiny as some of the musicians are starting to call it. No, seriously.

CHAVEZ: (Laughter) El Tiny, I love that.

CONTRERAS: Yeah, some of the musicians from Latin America are calling it El Tiny.

CHAVEZ: I'm really glad they included this one because I was totally jamming it. And like you said, you gave me an impossible task. But I'm really glad that you have Betsayda on there because I was totally jamming.

CONTRERAS: And I'll let you and some of the listeners in on a back - behind-the-scenes little secret. In just about all the performances that you see, if you see a pair of congas, they're my congas (laughter).

CHAVEZ: I know. Your congas are famous. You should have, like, some little, like, you know, Felix Contreras was here. So that way, when they zoom in on the congero, you can get a little shoutout.

CONTRERAS: Little shoutout. OK, we're in the studio with Gina Chavez. She's joining us from KUT in Austin. And we're listening in on some of the many Tiny Desk Concert performances. Gina, you're next. What's up?

CHAVEZ: All right. We're going to go with Flor De Toloache.


MARIACHI FLOR DE TOLOACHE (MUSICAL GROUP): (Vocalizing, singing) Dicen que el amor sincero puede hacerte muy feliz. Dicen que el amor sincero puede hacerte muy feliz. Eso. Dicen que el amor sincero puede hacerte muy feliz. Un, dos, uno.

CHAVEZ: These women are incredible. I'm telling you. I was telling you before the show that I hadn't really ever just spent, you know, good, solid time with their music. And, oh, my gosh, the vocals are incredible. The - their work on their instruments is incredible. But then, as a unit, it just takes it to a whole nother level. And so I'm - they're one of those groups that at once inspire me and also make me want to throw away my instruments and never touch them again.


CHAVEZ: But no, I'm - like, they've won Grammys, they deserve all of that and much more. Very excited about them.

CONTRERAS: This is Flor De Toloache and their performance from the Tiny Desk Concert, El Tiny. This is "Dicen."


MARIACHI FLOR DE TOLOACHE: (Singing) Y voy sufriendo, no lo niego. Anhelando tu cariño y supuesto amor sincero. Ayayay, un amor sincero. Ayayay, eso es lo que quiero. Ayayay, un amor sincero. Ayayay, eso es lo que quiero. Eh, eh. Cumbia. Dicen que aunque hoy yo llore, mi corazón late por él. Mañana será otro día y él, los recuerdos del ayer. Dicen que aunque hoy yo llore, mi corazón late por él. Mañana será otro día y él los recuerdos del ayer. Por eso río, río, río; por eso olvido, olvido, olvido. Pasión que ya el tiempo mató, ese amor tan querido. Por eso río, río, río; por eso olvido, olvido, olvido. Pasión que ya el tiempo mató, ese amor tan querido. Ayayay, un amor sincero. Ayayay, es lo que quiero. Ayayay, un amor sincero. Ayayay, es lo que quiero. I think it's your turn to sing with us. It's very easy. You're going to sing the chorus. It goes like this. Ayayay. All you got to do is smile. Ayayay. Eso. Ayayay. You got to feel it. Ayayay. Ayayay. Eso, ayayay, un amor sincero. Ayayay, es lo que quiero. Ayayay, un amor sincero. Ayayay, es lo que quiero.

CONTRERAS: Another powerful performance on NPR's Tiny Desk from Flor De Toloache. I want to remind everyone that we are doing the show this week with Gina Chavez, who is, again, a vocalist, songwriter and Tiny Desk alumnus. And now it's time to play a track from one of yours.

CHAVEZ: Uh-oh.

CONTRERAS: OK? Yeah? And before we play it, tell us a little bit about what it's like to perform at Tiny Desk.

CHAVEZ: Oh, that's a good question. It's a very small space behind Bob Boilen's desk. It looks so big, I think, because you've had groups like Mother Falcon, you know, that have 13 people in them or whatever. And so I remember getting back there and was like, oh, wow, this is, like, a legit small desk space, you know? And then poor Bob, he has to go - take his laptop and go work at, like, a table by the window.

CONTRERAS: It's like eating at the little kids' table at Thanksgiving.

CHAVEZ: Yeah. I guess there was this part of me that thought that that was just, like, a stage - you know, like a staged area or something. No, it's his desk. It's his actual desk. And then - you know, and I think just being at the NPR mothership was definitely a - I don't know, it was kind of a dream come true, honestly. I am very aware that, you know, it's a pretty coveted thing to have a Tiny Desk. And so I just am really appreciative of everybody at NPR - especially you, Felix - for championing especially independent artists among other artists, but just championing independent music and great journalism. And so it was a really cool vibe in the office, and everybody's really sweet. And we got kind of a listening audience and got them involved. And I hope I can go back for - even just to see a Tiny Desk, so...

CONTRERAS: You know, we do a lot of different types of music of every stripe just about under the sun. And musicians are telling me that it's becoming, like, a little magic spot. Like, the space has a mojo - right? - has some kind of groove, has some kind of spirit, some kind of energy that bring on these amazing performances. And I'll give you a sneak preview. You know, we're taping this in September. And sometime soon, probably later in October, we're going to feature Café Tacvba. They just performed here recently. And the guys were nervous, right? They have 30 years' experience, and they told me - they said they were a little nervous. But once they started playing, you could just - as other musicians do, they just loosened up and enjoyed the moment because it's over in a flash. It's only, like, 15 minutes.

CHAVEZ: And then, you know, for somebody like me, it's like, we practiced that 15-minute segment, you know, a lot just to make sure that we could come in there and really do it well because there's no time to warm up. Like, you're on.


CONTRERAS: We don't do that, really.

CHAVEZ: Yeah, for sure.

CONTRERAS: Well, if it makes you feel any better, Café Tacvba also practiced their set ahead of time to make sure that it fit the time and that they had all the instrumentation right there.

CHAVEZ: Excellent.

CONTRERAS: Good to know. This is Gina Chavez from the Tiny Desk. This is "Siete-D."


CHAVEZ: (Singing) Soy gringa en una tierra latina, chelita en un país central. Quiero conocer todos lados, desde soya a la cima de Izalco. Voy de prisa y andando perdida. Está lleno donde me siento hoy. Hay que pegar pa' que abran la puerta. Como llegar hacia atrás y que siga abierta. Sube sube a 7-D. Sube. Vamos a ver al mundo, sube, sube a 7 D. Sube, a ver, a ver, sube, sube a 7 D. Sube. Vamos a ver al mundo, sube, sube a 7 D. Sube, a ver, a ver. Sorpresa, no hay buses, hoy las noticias gritan cual cobrado. Mejor tomate una coaster. Nos ganaron las maras esta vez. Velocidades, sabe el busero dos. La primera y la locura. Agárrate mi Chero, lo que encuentres. Bailamos sus canciones. Sube, sube a 7 D. Sube. Vamos a ver al mundo. Sube, sube a 7 D. Sube. A ver, a ver. Sube, sube a 7 D. Sube. Vamos a ver al mundo. Sube, sube a 7 D. Sube, A ver, a ver. Yo, yo quiero vagar, aunque me cuesta observar. Lo que veo al pasar las champas. Desde Tonacatepeque, por calles de oro. Al Parque infantil, llegar a Metrocentro. Luego Gallerías, llévame a la Gran Villa. El Boulevard del Ejército, la trabazón que había. Ando pisto y tú pistola. Pero vos no me controla, ni en Arizona. Como Don Ramón, yo no pago la extorción. Tampoco Piolín, ni la mano de Dios. Ni la Vane, la Esme, Xiomi o la Marta, ni las demás. El cipote va a cantar. Andamos poco, veinte centavos, hiper país, por qué quedas en todos lados. Voy al centro, al catedral, pero al Santo Romero el estilo especial. Aire acondicionado, dónde has estado. Es cosa de cheros. Aire acondicionado, dónde has estado. Es cosa de cheros. Sube, sube a 7 D, Sube. Vamos a ver al mundo. Sube, sube a 7 D. Sube. A ver, a ver, sube, sube a 7 D. Sube. Vamos a ver al mundo. Sube, sube a 7 D. A ver, a ver. Sube, sube a 7 D. Sube, vamos a ver al mundo. Sube, sube a 7 D. A ver, a ver, sube, sube a 7 D. Sube. Vamos a ver al mundo, sube, sube a 7 D. A ver, a ver, a ver. Sube


CONTRERAS: Gina Chavez behind the Tiny Desk, and Gina Chavez behind the mic this week.





CONTRERAS: We are talking about Tiny Desk concerts. And we're picking out some of the ones that stand out to us. You're up. What do you have next?

CHAVEZ: All right. So I was really impressed with Yissy García and Bandancha, who I think is a recent addition.


CHAVEZ: Honestly, I'm not a - like, I'm not a huge fan of instrumental music. I think, as a songwriter and a singer, a lot of times, I latch onto the vocals. And they do have vocals in some of their songs. But the very first one is "Última Noticia." And I was just kind of listening to it in the background and immediately was like, oh, my God. This is amazing. They are incredible instrumentalists from Cuba. And I love that she's a drummer, and she leads the band. And I just felt like they kind of fused all of these - you know, it's like they're taking the Cuban tradition and mixing it, you know? You got, like, rumba mixed with electronica and hip-hop...

CONTRERAS: Correct, yeah.

CHAVEZ: ...Mixed with jazz and Afro-Cuban. I don't know. It's just - the whole thing was just so rich.

CONTRERAS: This is the title cut from the album. I don't know if it's been released here in the United States. I know it was released in Cuba, and I brought one back. This is called "Última Noticia." This is Yissy García and Bandancha.



CONTRERAS: You have one more pick. What do you got?

CHAVEZ: OK. So, again, this is super hard. And to all of the Latin bands out there, big love from Gina Chavez in Austin, Texas. So I actually had a chance to share the stage with these guys recently and see them live finally. And oh, my gosh, they're just incredible - but Making Movies out of Kansas City by way of Panama. This song is "Cuna De Vida."


MAKING MOVIES (MUSICAL GROUP): (Singing) Carne y hueso, dame un beso, no dejes de venir aquí. Calor y sueño, deseo ser tu dueño, comer de tu jardín. Y dice, dame un beso, estoy tan arrecho, no te vayas de mí. Ojo a ojo, pecho a pecho, lo mejor de vivir es cuando dices. (Vocalizing) Carne y mente, agua ardiente, baja a tus rodillas y quita esos lentes, todo es decente, no recuerde ese día. Cuando éramos niños, amor era lindo, cadera encima de mí. Yo cubrí tu boca, tu mamá no te oiga, el ritmo no quiebra aquí. Digo, yo cubrí tu boca, tu mamá no te oiga, lo mejor de vivir es cuando dices. (Vocalizing) Ella tan atrevida, me lleva a la cuna de vida. Ella mi atrevida me lleva ala cuna de vida. Me lleva a la cuna de vida. Ella tan atrevida me lleva, cuna de vida. Cuna de vida. Y ella me llevó, cuna de vida. Con su ritmo y sus labios me lleva allí. Cuna de vida. Oye, que sabroso es hacer el amor. Cuna de vida, ojo a ojo, pecho a pecho, ella me lleva a la cuna de la vida, que sabroso es el amor. Cuna de vida. Ella me cuida y me lleva a la cuna de la vida, ojo a ojo, pecho a pecho, es lo mejor. Qué sabroso es hacer el amor. Cuna de vida. (Vocalizing) Ella me cuidó. Cuna de vida. Qué sabroso es el amor. Cuna de vida.


CHAVEZ: Ya me afilé.


CONTRERAS: OK. I know it's hard.

CHAVEZ: (Laughter).

CONTRERAS: I know it's hard. We're having a hard time trying to...

CHAVEZ: I'm having a really hard time here.

CONTRERAS: ...Squeeze them all in. I wish we could play all 70. But we do want to remind you that you can go to the NPR website, look up Tiny Desk and go through and find all the Latin music ones. And you will not be disappointed 'cause there's tons of amazing, great music. And the other thing I want to call your attention to is once a year, we have a Tiny Desk contest where people can write in and send in their videos to try to get selected by the team of judges. And what I do is as soon as the winner is announced, I've done a show featuring some of the Latin music that sent in that's not chosen, but some of the artists that perform and send in their videos. And there's always amazing, amazing artists that send stuff in. So keep your eyes out for that. That's usually in the spring.

CHAVEZ: You know, and actually, because you invited me to this impossible task, I created a list of all of the official Tiny Desks that are Latin music. So if you go to my YouTube, people can find that.

CONTRERAS: Oh, cool.


CONTRERAS: On your YouTube.

CHAVEZ: It's public for all of the people.

CONTRERAS: (Laughter).

CHAVEZ: It's for all the people.

CONTRERAS: (Laughter) The people.

CHAVEZ: Mi gente.

CONTRERAS: (Laughter) OK.

CHAVEZ: Mi gente, que venga y escuche y disfruten.

CONTRERAS: (Laughter) Gina.

CHAVEZ: (Laughter).

CONTRERAS: And now we're going to go back to almost the beginning. The Tiny Desk started in 2009. And one of the first ones that we did with a Latin music artist was Omara Portuondo. And I'm playing this one because it goes all the way back to March of 2010. And it shows that we've had legends. We've had up-and-coming artists. We've had folk musicians. We've had famous people, like Juanes y Mon Laferte. We've had musicians that you should know more about, musicians that are just creating their career. It's the whole gamut, not just in Latin music, but also in music in general. But specifically with the Latin music - it was a joy and an honor early, early on to bring in such a legendary artist as Omara Portuondo. And when you watch the video, you're just going to get enraptured and fall in love because she acts out this Cuban lullaby as if she's singing to a little baby. And it's just - it's one of the most touching things I've ever seen. And I could hardly believe that I was standing in the same room with that voice. And you're going to experience the same thing because it's very direct. The microphones picked it straight up. Before we play it, though, I've got to say. Gina Chavez, thank you so much for coming in on short notice and doing this.

CHAVEZ: It's OK. I'll fill in for Bob Boilen anytime.

CONTRERAS: (Laughter) Yeah. Maybe it's better that I didn't give you any time, right?

CHAVEZ: (Laughter) It probably is. We're the same person, Felix.

CONTRERAS: Yes. We would have spent...

CHAVEZ: We're cut from the same cloth.

CONTRERAS: We would have spent, like, weeks agonizing over this, but, like, you had a day and a half to figure it out.

CHAVEZ: Yeah, people. So just know that. I was given no time.

CONTRERAS: (Laughter) So thank you for checking it out. Thank you for doing this.

CHAVEZ: Oh, thanks so much for the invite. Always a pleasure.

CONTRERAS: I want to remind you that we're going to run a bunch of Tiny Desk videos on our website at npr.org/altlatino. I'm Felix Contreras. We're going to end with Omara Portuondo. And again, as always, thank you for listening.


OMARA PORTUONDO (MUSICAL ARTIST): (Singing) Mamá, a la negrita se le salen los pies de la cunita. Y la negra Mercedes ya no sabe qué hacer. Ay, drume negrita, que yo voy a comprar nueva cunita, que tendrá capitel y también cascabel. Si, tú drume yo te voy a comprar un melón muy colorado, y si no drume yo te voy a traer un babalao que da, pau, pau (ph). Drume negrita, que yo voy a comprar nueva cunita, que tendrá capitel y también cascabel. Lala, la lala la la. La la la la la la, la la la la la la la. la la la la la la la. La la, la la la la la. Lacho, mira tú tan creído de tus hijos malcriados. Tus sus malcriados, sí. La la la lara la. (Scatting). Si tú drume yo te voy a comprar un melón, un melón muy colorado. Si no drume yo te voy a traer un babalao, un babalao que da, que da pau, pau (ph). Oh, drume negrita, que yo voy a comprar nueva cunita, que tendrá capitel, y también cascabel. La la la la, la la la la. La la la la la la. Y tendrá capitel. Drume, mi negro, mi chichiricú, mi chichiricú. Drume.


CHAVEZ: I'm Gina Chavez, and this has been ALT.LATINO.



CHAVEZ: That's the best one. That was a good one.

CONTRERAS: That's going to work.

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