The 'Alt.Latino' Year In Music We have 2019 picks for standout Latin music.
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The 'Alt.Latino' Year In Music

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The 'Alt.Latino' Year In Music

The 'Alt.Latino' Year In Music

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When Felix Contreras joins us here on WEEKEND EDITION, it is to share new music - cuts you probably haven't heard, often by up-and-coming artists. He hosts NPR Music's Alt.Latino podcast. Well, this week, we are not looking forward. We're looking back. It's just that time of year. Felix, welcome.

FELIX CONTRERAS, BYLINE: Good morning. Good morning.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What trends in Latin music stood out for you this year?

CONTRERAS: We've been doing this podcast for over nine - just about 9 1/2 years. And there's always a recurring conversation of, just what is Latin music?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: We've had that conversation here before.

CONTRERAS: For example, is there any similarity between this all-female mariachi Flor de Toloache...


FLOR DE TOLOACHE: (Singing in non-English language).

CONTRERAS: ...And this all-female Chicano punk band from San Antonio?


FEA: (Singing) I'm thinking this is not the first time you thought you'd come around to tell a girl how it goes.

CONTRERAS: A little jolt for your Sunday morning coffee. This is Fea. The core members used to be in a band called Girl in a Coma. So they've been doing punk for a long time. And I remember reading somewhere online that somebody said there's nothing more punk than being female and Latina in the U.S. these days.


CONTRERAS: Right? This is their second album. It's called "No Novelties." And it's produced by Alice Bag, who was a pioneering Latina punk in the '80s in LA.


FEA: (Singing) You sound pretty cool for a girl band. OK.

CONTRERAS: Is there anything that connects Flor de Toloache with Fea? Would we consider both Latin music? That's one of the questions that we grapple with. And that's one of things I want to do this week Because instead of labeling or categorization, I want to show how diverse and cross-cultural the music was this year.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's really interesting that you say this because musically, this conversation is actually reflected in what's happening in the conversation about Latinos across the country - right? - that we're not one thing. And what is it that binds us?

CONTRERAS: Everything from voting to food products, to marketing - everything.


CONTRERAS: Absolutely.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. You and I have talked about Latin urban music before. Where's that on your year-end list?

CONTRERAS: OK. There are some very innovative musicians in a genre that is now a worldwide phenomenon. And it's represented on our NPR year-end music list - lots of stuff. But I want to play a song from that genre that was one of the most impactful songs of the year. It's called "Afilando Los Cuchillos." And it requires a bit of a setup. During the height of the massive demonstrations in Puerto Rico over the summer - the movement to oust the embattled Puerto Rican governor, Ricardo Rossello - Latin urban superstar Bad Bunny, the rapper known as Residente, who was with Calle 13, and his younger sister, who goes by iLe - they released a no-hold- and no-language-barred attack on Rossello. I'm going to play a short clip because we can't play much more because the language is so strong. Check this out.


RESIDENTE: (Rapping in non-English language).

ILE: (Singing in non-English language).


GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's great. Fury is the only party that unites us.

CONTRERAS: It's part of his very literate history - Residente - as being just one of the voices of demonstrations. He was on the frontlines along with Bad Bunny and iLe during his whole summer thing. And that song is particularly powerful.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Anything this year that you loved and came out of left field - anything really surprising?

CONTRERAS: The experimental and creative outer edges of music.


CONTRERAS: My favorite.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Take me there.


CONTRERAS: My favorite part.


CONTRERAS: OK. I want to play something from a guy from Ecuador. His name is Nicola Cruz. And he mixes folkloric and electronic. And he put out a beautifully stunning album that defies labeling. The album's called "Siku." And this track is called "Senor De Las Piedras."


HUAIRA: (Singing in non-English language).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So we talk every month, Felix. And the conversation is always loaded with lots of music from lots of artists. And every week you - at Alt.Latino - publish a playlist with at least five new songs, all year long. How do you keep up? I mean, how do you remember what stood out? That's a lot.

CONTRERAS: If I'm lucky, I hear something that is so good I almost immediately know it will be a fav.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Were you lucky this year?

CONTRERAS: Yep. Check this out.


ANGELIQUE KIDJO: (Singing in non-English language).

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing in non-English language).

ANGELIQUE KIDJO: (Singing in non-English language).

CONTRERAS: Recognize that?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Oh, yeah. I do.

CONTRERAS: This is West African vocalist Angelique Kidjo. She released a tribute album called "Celia." It's an amazing, loving tribute to everyone's favorite Cuban tia, the queen of salsa.


CONTRERAS: There you go. What won me over is how Angelique Kidjo and her musicians and her arrangers Africanized salsa, which already has African roots, right?


CONTRERAS: This track, "Quimbara," which is one of Celia's most well-known songs, is performed in what is known as a 6/8 beat.


ANGELIQUE KIDJO: (Singing in non-English language).

CONTRERAS: One, two, three, four, five, six. One, two, three, four, five, six. One, two, three, four, five, six. That is a direct reference to the West African roots of salsa. It's where salsa came from. So they're basically taking salsa back to Africa. And the entire album is a genius re-examination of the legacy of Celia Cruz. This was the most amazing, fun thing I heard all year.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Felix Contreras hosts the Alt.Latino podcast from NPR Music. You can find his picks and more than 20 year-end lists at Felix, thank you so much.

CONTRERAS: Thank you.


UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing in non-English language).

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