Alt.Latino's Favorite Albums Of 2020 Gave Us Passion, Vision And Solace : Alt.Latino We look back on the albums that moved us this year, from Lido Pimienta's personal Miss Colombia to Bad Bunny's monumental YHLQMDLG.

Albums featured in this episode:

• OKAN, Espiral
• Gabriel Garzón-Montano, Agüita
• Sexores, Salamanca
• X Alfonso, Inside
• Lido Pimienta, Miss Colombia
• Orquesta Faílde, Faílde con Tumbao
• Rita Indiana, Mandinga Times
• Bad Bunny, YHLQMDLG
• Natalia Lafourcade, Un Canto por México, Vol. 1
• Ghetto Kumbe, Ghetto Kumbe

Alt.Latino's Favorite Albums Of 2020 Gave Us Passion, Vision And Solace

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  • Transcript

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ESPIRAL")

MAGDELYS SAVIGNE: (Singing in non-English language).

MAGDELYS SAVIGNE AND ELIZABETH RODRIGUEZ: (Singing in non-English language).

FELIX CONTRERAS, HOST:

From NPR Music, this is ALT.LATINO. I'm Felix Contreras. It's that time of the year, time to look back and consider the music that moved us this year, a year unlike any others and one we hope never has to be repeated. It was the year of the weight of the pandemic and its associated losses and heartbreak, not to mention the emotional upheaval of spontaneous street demonstrations calling for social justice around the country. Latin musicians in our corner of the music world produced music that reflected the times and also helped us cope. A lot of the music released earlier this year was made well before the pandemic, but it seemed to answer a call for solace and contemplation, while some of it was produced in direct response to current events during this hectic year.

There is lots to consider. And, of course, I couldn't do it all by myself. I welcome back the ALT.LATINO contributor crew of musical experts - Marisa Arbona-Ruiz...

MARISA ARBONA-RUIZ, BYLINE: Saludos. Great to be here.

CONTRERAS: ...Catalina Maria Johnson...

CATALINA MARIA JOHNSON, BYLINE: And hello. Hello from Chicago.

CONTRERAS: ...And Stefanie Fernández.

STEFANIE FERNÁNDEZ, BYLINE: So good to be here.

CONTRERAS: Thank you all for joining me on Zoom. OK. Let's get right into the music.

ARBONA-RUIZ: My first pick is the album "Espiral" by emerging Afro-Cuban jazz fusion duo out of Toronto called Okan, and they are violinist Elizabeth Rodriguez and percussionist and music director Magdelys Savigne. They also sing and harmonize beautifully. This title track is their interpretation of an eastern Cuban guajira infused with chant, and they've included Cuban legends Roberto Riverón on bass and Miguel de Armas on piano. It's just beautiful. Here is the title track, "Espiral."

(SOUNDBITE OF OKAN'S "ESPIRAL")

ARBONA-RUIZ: Okan means heart in the Yoruba language used in Santería faith. They play from the heart, and they're on a mission to support their Cubano musician community. And this is their second album that they have spent three years on in the making back-to-back with their first album called "Sombras." And this showcases original compositions and a few covers with original arrangements of jazz fusion with danzón, merengue and even Turkish folk, if you can imagine that. Coincidentally, they found out the chant was dedicated to San Lázaro and has a relation to Babalú Ayé, who is exiled from his homeland and started over in a new land. So for them, it has an extra special meaning because they started over as immigrants.

JOHNSON: It's an amazing track, and I think the interplay between a violinist and a percussionist, both women, really gives it a very special and fresh feel.

(SOUNDBITE OF OKAN'S "ESPIRAL")

CONTRERAS: That was the title track "Espiral" from the group Okan. And I got to say that I'm a very, very big fan of that band as well.

OK. Catalina, you're up next. What album did you choose?

JOHNSON: Here's an album by an artist that I've loved for some time, Gabriel Garzón-Montano. And it's the album "Agüita," and this track is called "Someone."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SOMEONE")

GABRIEL GARZON-MONTANO: (Singing) I love you like when we began. Friends, lovers, friends, lovers, end. Now you've got yourself a man. I've been busy making other plans. You put it on me now and then. He a sweetie, kinda understands. I cooked and lit the candles, man. I thought that we were doing it again. It's so peculiar this game that we play, hey. And I pray that we do. I want it all the way. Yeah. Oh, I needed you.

JOHNSON: Now, if you were to have heard his previous album, which is his first, you might not recognize some of what's happening on the second. He's got a very fascinating background. He is born in New York, but his father is Colombian. And he's got deep, deep Colombian roots and a French mother who is a classical musician. And in this album, he specifically sets up three characters or three personas, one which is, like, a leading man, debonair, soulful kind of person. The other is an emotive, melancholic, experimentally impressionist. And the other is kind of Latin trap hit-maker type. And so there's genres for everybody on this album, and he's combining R&B, funk, soul, hip-hop. And each song is its own little kind of gem. I love the fact that he doesn't fear anything. He's fearless. And I think it's kind of an example of sometimes - an artist that just refuses to be categorized and refuses to say, I am, you know, X kind of person. I am X kind of artist. So this is one of my favorite artists, and I think this album is a very special, uncategorizable album.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SOMEONE")

GARZON-MONTANO: (Singing) Gave it to someone new. Let's just forget the worst, hey, and then forget the world. I needed you. I don't know what to do. Oh, I needed you. I don't know what to do. You took your loving from me, and you gave it to someone new. Let's just forget the worst, hey, and then forget the world. I needed you. I don't know what to do. Oh, I needed you. I don't know what to do. You took your loving from me. Oh, and you gave it to someone new, gave it to someone new. Let's just forget the worst. What did you do? Hey. And then forget the world. What did you do? Well, now you, well, now you gave it to someone new. Oh, I needed you, you. I don't know what to do. You took your loving from me, and you gave it to someone new. You gave it to someone new. Let's just forget the worst, hey, and then forget the world. I needed you. I don't know what to do.

CONTRERAS: That was the track "Someone" from the artist Gabriel Garzón-Montano. That was Catalina's first pick for our favorite albums of 2020.

ARBONA-RUIZ: I was really mesmerized by him on his performance at LAMC's online concert this year. I felt that he was just so powerful, and it was stunning, so great pick, Catalina.

CONTRERAS: OK, moving on. Let's see. Stefanie, you're up. What do you have?

FERNÁNDEZ: Yes. My next pick was an amazing discovery for me this year. This is "Salamanca" by Sexores.

(SOUNDBITE OF SEXORES SONG, "SALAMANCA")

FERNÁNDEZ: They're a band that's based in Mexico City, though they're from Quito, Ecuador. And this is their fifth album. And it's - they call it a pagan celebration. And it's dark wave, goth, ambient, and it features a lot of sounds that are pretty scary and hard to pin down. It's kind of like watching a horror movie in sound. And the themes of the album came out of this deep research project of examining throughout history and in cultures across the world the ways that women have been demonized and subjected to violence and the excuses for doing so - of course, particularly in the themes of witchcraft and brujería around the world in different folklores, in different cultures but also kind of looking at the place that women occupy in mythologies and cultural memory and the occult, and how women carry pain and carry memory. What it sounds like is it sounds like you're going through dungeons in a video game, and the next level, you get deeper and deeper, and you can just go so intricately into the sounds that they create. It's really impressive. A song that really stood out to me, "Nos Lo Dijo La Serpiente," refers to biblical imagery of, you know, the snake and the Garden of Eden and Eve and the fruit and all of that. But the lyric that the song closes on is "...todo lo que brillará nos lo dijo la serpiente, todo lo que brilla dentro de mí se lo debo a la ofidia." What that line means in English roughly is, you know, everything that will shine as the snake told us, everything that shines within me, I owe it to the serpent.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NOS LO DIJO LA SERPIENTE")

SEXORES: (Singing) ...Destino. Soberanos del poder. Todo lo que brillará, nos lo dijo la serpiente. Todo lo que brillará, nos lo dijo la serpiente. Todo lo que, todo lo que brilla dentro de mí, se lo debo a la ofidia.

CONTRERAS: That was the band Sexores, and their album is called "Salamanca." And that was Stefanie Fernández's pick. You are listening to ALT.LATINO. I'm Felix Contreras, and we're going over some of our favorite albums of 2020. My pick is next. My top pick for the year was called "Inside" by the artist X Alfonso from Cuba. You know, I think that he's a visionary, and he's consistently put out music over the years. "Inside" is the name of his record, and what he did was release one track a month. But you have to take the album as a whole because then you can connect the dots between the genres and styles and messages, and it flows like a musical storybook, and it gives an in-depth look at why I think he's a visionary. This track is called "No Se Puede Pensar Como Un Prisionero." This is X Alfonso and the album "Inside."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NO SE PUEDE PENSAR COMO UN PRISIONERO")

X ALFONSO: (Singing) El mundo está revuelto y quiere morder. El mundo está revuelto y quiere morder. Se viven tiempos que te quieres romper. Se viven tiempos que te quieres romper. Lo que no mata te hace fuerte una vez. Lo que no mata te hace fuerte una vez. Y si me caigo me levanto otra vez. Y si me caigo me levanto otra vez. Paa' caminar tus pies, y pa sacar la fuerza, tu fe. Tú tienes todo ese poder, para poder crecer. Y nunca más temer a levantar cabeza y correr, y nada puede detener, salvar tu amanecer y ese puño arriba.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: How's the people on the dance floor?

X ALFONSO: (Singing) Puño arriba, no nací para ser cordero. Corazón de acero, pa' empezar de nuevo.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: How's the people on the dance floor?

X ALFONSO: (Singing) No se puede pensar como un prisionero. Pa' esto aguacero, vista y febrimero (ph) La realidad se pone dura otra vez. La realidad se pone dura otra vez. Y el que golpea ya no quiere entender. Y el que golpea ya no quiere entender. Pero no pierdan la esperanza y la fe. Pero no pierdan la esperanza y la fe, que si te caes te levantas otra vez. Y si te caes te levantas otra vez. Pa' caminar tus pies, y pa' sacar la fuerza tu fe, tienes todo ese poder, y para poder crecer. Jamás temer a levantar cabeza y correr. Y nada puede detener y salvar tu amanecer. Ese puño arriba.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: How's the people on the dance floor?

X ALFONSO: (Singing) Puño arriba, no nací para ser cordero. Corazón de acero, pa' empezar de nuevo.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: How's the people on the dance floor?

X ALFONSO: (Singing) No se puede pensar como un prisionero. Pa' estos aguacero. Y nunca más temer a levantar cabeza y correr, y nada puede detener salvar tu amanecer. Puño arriba, people.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: How's the people on the dance floor?

X ALFONSO: (Singing) Puño arriba, no nací para ser cordero. Corazón de acero, pa' empezar de nuevo.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: How's the people on the dance floor?

X ALFONSO: (Singing) No se puede pensar como un prisionero. Pa' estos aguaceros. Puño arriba, no nací para ser cordero. Corazón de acero, pa' empezar de nuevo. No se puede pensar como un prisionero. Pa' estos aguaceros, vista y febrimero.

CONTRERAS: That was my pick for one of my favorite albums of the year, X Alfonso with "Inside." Next up is an album that everybody agreed on. All four of us agreed on it, so let's take a little bit of time to talk about this. The album's called "Miss Colombia." Let's start with Marisa. What did you like about this record?

ARBONA-RUIZ: What didn't I like (laughter)? It's creative and beautifully performed. It's also deep and transformative. I was really fascinated by the way she inhabits an empowered mood, the layer of crescendoing oohs behind her more reflective ahs. She takes us on a journey of self-love that embraces her Afro Indigenous Colombian identity and feminine power. And by the way, the album was just nominated for a Grammy for best Latin rock, urban or alternative album, that crazy category that mixes all those genres together.

FERNÁNDEZ: Wow. This was my album of the year. I think there's - I think we could devote an entire show to discussing just this album, but I'll keep it short. I really love that this album is just a subversion of so many types of beauty that we're taught to value in Latin America. I think it's so special how she took this very specific moment that she's pointed to as the inspiration for writing this record, which was the 2015 Miss Universe pageant when Steve Harvey mistakenly announced that the winner of the pageant was Miss Colombia instead of Miss Philippines and then the ensuing kind of outcry in the Colombian media that happened. And so much of that backlash was really racist and inflected with a lot of the issues surrounding national identity that Lido explores in this album. In particular, I really love that she focuses on place. So much of the album takes place in San Basilio de Palenque, and her collaborations with the group Sexteto Tabala I thought were so special and deserve a lot of focus.

JOHNSON: Wow. There is so much to say about this album. I totally agree with Stefanie. We could spend at least one show on it and then another one just on Lido herself (laughter). I think she brings to her music the fact that she's also a visual artist. She draws and paints. And this album I loved because she somehow brought in, in that whole topic of identity, her own Afro-Colombian as well as Wayú Indigenous background into play. And the San Basilio de Palenque reference, which Stefanie also referred to - palenques were communities that were created by escaped enslaved persons. And that music and that history and that legacy was kept alive. I just find that all so powerful. The imagery is powerful. Her ability to really kind of root and then at the same time be at the vanguard, like, be super experimental and kind of out there, and a voice that can do that, too - sing quite traditionally and then also just kind of float into the other in a very kind of experimental way. It's a very amazing album and, I think rightfully so (laughter), made the top of everybody's list this year here, in this group and many others (laughter).

CONTRERAS: We're going to play the track "Nada" featuring Li Saumet from the album "Miss Colombia" from Lido Pimienta.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NADA")

LIDO PIMIENTA: (Singing) Todo lo que yo sentí, todo lo que yo viví de todo lo que presentía, no me queda nada. Por todo lo que yo sufrí, por todo lo que yo aprendí, de todo lo que te di, ya no me queda nada. Nada. Nada. Nada. Yo te soy sincero, si es que ma{ana muero, no le tengo miedo, pues soy mujer y debo el dolor adentro, soy mujer de lluvia, de sangre, de luna, de tierra, sal y luna. Con amor, sin duda, si es que mañana muero, de aquí yo no me muevo, yo no le tengo miedo. No le tengo miedo. No. Todo lo que yo sentí y todo lo que yo viví, por todo lo que presentí, ya no me queda nada. Por todo lo que yo miré, y todo lo que ya soñé. Por todo lo que te esperé, ya no me queda nada. Nada. Nada. Nada.

LI SAUMET: Yo te soy sincero, y no le tengo miedo a la muerte. Si es que me quiere, aquí la espero de frente y sonriente. El dolor lo llevo dentro. El dolor lo tengo presente. Soy una mujer de sangre, en luna, de tierra, sal y duna. Sin pena, sin duda, el dolor lo llevo dentro, el dolor lo llevo dentro. El dolor.

PIMIENTA: Todo lo que yo sentí y todo lo que yo viví, por todo lo que presentí, ya no me queda nada. Por todo lo que viví y todo lo que yo aprendí. De todo lo que yo sufrí, ya no me queda nada. Nada. Nada. Todo lo que yo esperé y todo lo que entregué. De todo lo que recordé, ya no me queda. Del amor que yo te di, de todo lo que perseguí. De todo lo que yo te di, ya no me queda nada. No me queda nada. No me queda. No me queda. El dolor lo tengo presente. El dolor lo tengo presente. El dolor lo tengo presente. El dolor.

CONTRERAS: That was "Nada" featuring Li Saumet from the album "Miss Colombia" by Lido Pimienta. We're going to keep going, talking about our favorite albums from 2020. Marisa, you're up next. What do you have?

ARBONA-RUIZ: OK. So I think this year I had Cuban fever (laughter). First of all, I chose OKAN. My second pick was Orquesta Failde's album called "Failde Con Tumbao." It really grabbed me this year because they have this big-band danzón style, and they also incorporate mambo, salsa, jazz and timba. And I was just gripped by both their musicality and their vocals, which were off the charts. This album was very deservedly nominated for a Latin Grammy in the best tropical traditional album category. And they also have a little history too. The band's leader and flute player is Ethiel Failde, and his great-great-grandfather is Miguel Failde, who is associated with creating the danzón. So Ethiel is very passionate about keeping this music alive and presenting it to younger generations along with other forms of Afro Cuban music like this mambo. From Orquesta Failde's album, "Failde Con Tumbao," here's the track, "Tumbao."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TUMBAO")

YURISÁN HERNÁNDEZ: (Singing) Tumbao, tumbao, tumbao, tumbador. Tumba la caña buena, tráeme azúcar el sabor. Tumbao cruzando el mar. Tumbao sobre la sal. Tumbao negro con negro, tumbao pa' no llorar. Tumbao que floreció, cuerda, garganta, tambor. Donde el pobre abrió su alma, el tumbao respondió.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing) Tumbao que se fue, tumbao se quedó. Tumbao contra el viento.

HERNÁNDEZ: (Singing) Oye.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing) Tumbao que se fue, tumbao se quedó, tumbao contra el viento. Tumba, tumbador.

HERNÁNDEZ: (Singing) Aquí no hay nadie tumbao, el tumbao me salvó. Pasa por ti talismán, mi consuelo y religión. El mundo prestó su oído, quiso agitar su compás, y el tumbao ya no es mío, ahora es la humanidad. Vestido de corte inglés, con chancleta, con disfraz, la postura bien cubana, nadie la puede negar.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing) Tumbando se fue, tumbao se quedó, tumbao contra el viento. Tumbao que se fue, tumbao se quedó, tumbao contra el viento. Tumba, tumbador.

HERNÁNDEZ: (Singing) Dale, que llegaron los guays, con tremendo tumbao. Alabado. Qué sabor.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing) Baila tumbao.

HERNÁNDEZ: (Singing) Se acabó.

CONTRERAS: That was Orquesta Failde. And I got to say, you know, when I was in Havana last January, I took some time and sat down with Ethiel Failde, and he is so dedicated to preserving and presenting this music, like you said, to the younger generations. And it's in very, very good hands. So thank you for bringing that track in, Marisa.

FERNÁNDEZ: I got to say, as the Cuban on the panel, I love how much Cuban music made it to this year's list.

(LAUGHTER)

FERNÁNDEZ: I love Orquesta Failde. And I got to shout out - I think my favorite lyric in the song is "Con chaqueta o con disfraz, la costura es bien cubana, nadie la puede negar," which is basically in - with a jacket or in a disguise, you know, the needlework that is very Cuban, no one can negate it, which basically means, like, the cut of a real Cuban, no one can deny. And I love that spirit.

CONTRERAS: OK. Moving on from our collective love for Cuban music, we're going to move to Catalina's next track, which takes us to the Dominican Republic. Catalina, what do you have?

JOHNSON: This is Rita Indiana, who I've been a huge fan of for the longest time and first as a novelist, as a writer. And then she moved in from writing and literature into music, very briefly. About 10 years ago in 2010, she came up with "El Juidero," and I'd never heard anything like "El Juidero." Then she moved away. She said, I'm dropping music. And I mean, I wanted to cry (laughter). I was like, no. Please don't. Moved away from music for a decade, returned to writing novels, and she finally came back to music with this album. And it's called "Mandinga Times." Now, the song I chose, I chose also because it has a literary reference. So I've been a huge fan of Jorge Luis Borges from Argentina for some time. And this is a song based on a story called "El Zahir," which is about literally sort of what happens when you become addicted - metaphorically addicted and attached to coins, to money. And she takes it post-punk. She brings in gaga, which is an Afro Dominican rhythm. And it's very popular in batey communities, which are rural communities of sugarcane workers in the Dominican Republic. And somehow she brings in a Norwegian musician. Trust me on this one. It's a fascinating track. The album is fascinating. This is the track "El Zahir," and the album is "Mandinga Times" by Rita Indiana.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EL ZAHIR")

RITA INDIANA: (Singing) Una moneda está en el fondo de un pozo, la tiré un día y pedí de esto y lo otro. Una moneda dando vuelta en el aire, cayó en el lado de la puesta de alguien. Hola moneda, hay que hacerla, hay que hacerla. Hola, moneda, hay que hacerla, hay que hacerla. Una moneda en un bolsillo es bien poco, según un ciego puede volverte loco. Una moneda con dos caras y tu nombre, por varias vendieron al hijo del hombre. Hola, moneda, hay que hacerla, hay que hacerla. Hola, moneda, hay que hacerla, hay que hacerla. Una moneda pa' comprar el silencio, una moneda pa' la boca del muerto. De un lado esclavo y del otro un liberto, pa' que Caronte te recoja en el puerto. Hola, moneda, hay que hacerla, hay que hacerla. Hola, moneda, hay que hacerla, hay que hacerla. En esta casa hay morocota enterrada. Allá en los patios por el lado del alijibe. El fantasma de un bucanero que ahí vive. En medio de un sueño me lo vino a enseñar. Busca la pala pa' que cuando la luna se ponga oscura como sangre cuajada, abramos el hoyo pa' sacar la botija, que todos mis muertos a mí me tienen guardada.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Den eldste i blandt oss har falt Den frommeste gravlegges med ham Du hevdet at du var blitt kalt Steg ut fra din linje og skam Du trådde ut av din avmakt Gjorde deg selv til en utvalgt Før var du blendet og bergtatt Nå er du våken og hauglagt Nå er du våken og hauglagt

INDIANA: (Singing) Llegó la rebusera, ma,bera y gafasera, le gusta a todo el mundo como de oro una moneda. Si no te enteras, estos cueros no te esperan, el terror cerró su escuela y soy la única heredera. Hola, moneda, hay que hacerla, hay que hacerla. Hola, moneda, hay que hacerla, hay que hacerla. Hola, moneda, hay que hacerla, hay que hacerla. Hola, moneda, hay que hacerla, hay que hacerla.

CONTRERAS: I think a lot of people listening to this podcast are already big fans of Rita Indiana. So it's good to see her this year on - with a new record and then included on this list. So thank you for bringing that in, Catalina. OK, Stefanie, you're up next with one of the most visible albums of the year, let's say.

FERNÁNDEZ: Yes. It's a little album called "YHLQMDLG" - ever heard of it?..

(LAUGHTER)

FERNÁNDEZ: ...By Bad Bunny (laughter).

JOHNSON: Oh, that rings some bells.

FERNÁNDEZ: Yes. This album, if we can remember back to February on Leap Day when it came out before the year devolved into the year we've had - the way this album shook the world is hard to overstate. It was the first of three surprise albums that Bad Bunny dropped this year. And it's my personal favorite, though there's something really special in all of them. He dropped his third on Thanksgiving night, "El Último Tour Del Mundo." And while there's something wonderful to love about each of his albums, this one really feels like it's been in the works for the length of his career. It's an album that was trying very specifically to recall the original sound of old school Puerto Rican reggaeton before this genre was massively co-opted by the Latin pop industry, before you heard a reggaeton backbeat in every song. And he features, you know, a set of really excellent collaborations, featuring Daddy Yankee, Jowell & Randy, Ñengo Flow, Yaviah and more. I really think it was such a special statement to recall a history that has actually been widely demonized by Latin music. You know, reggaeton was criminalized in Puerto Rico several times and elsewhere in Latin America. And so much of its history as a genre has been in response to widespread racism and classism. This album is a real celebration of Bad Bunny's childhood in Puerto Rico, of working-class Puerto Rico, and the marquesinas parties that were the spiritual locus of this whole album.

CONTRERAS: We'd love to play the music for you, but for legal reasons we can't. So we will just collectively express our appreciation for the phenomena and the musical genius, I think, of Bad Bunny from this record, his new record that was released, like you said, on Thanksgiving, and just stuff that he generally touches. I really have a lot of respect for this guy.

FERNÁNDEZ: "Safaera" is too powerful. It will break the podcast.

(LAUGHTER)

FERNÁNDEZ: We should also say that when this came out, this became the highest charting all-Spanish-language album ever in the history of the Billboard 200, a record that's now been broken by his new album, "El Último Tour Del Mundo," which is the first all-Spanish-language album to sit at No. 1 on that chart.

CONTRERAS: With those kind of numbers, it reflects that it's just not the Spanish language market that's listening, which is vast. But in order to have that kind of success on the mainstream charts, you got to have people listening from other - that speak other languages and from other demographics. And it just speaks to universality of him as an artist.

FERNÁNDEZ: And the artistry.

CONTRERAS: All hats off for Bad Bunny. OK. Thanks for bringing that in, Stefanie. And next up, we're going to go to an album that we all agreed on. This is "Un Canto Por México, Vol. 1" by Natalia Lafourcade. It is a tribute to her roots from Veracruz, Mexico. And she zeroed in specifically on son jarocho style of music from that part of the world. Who wants to jump in and talk about this?

SEXORES: Son jarocho - that's what I love so much about it. It's also a benefit album that raises funds for the CDSJ the Son Jarocho Cultural Center in her home state of Veracruz, Mexico. And it features an all star lineup of guests artists, including some of our ALT.LATINO faves, Jorge Drexler, Mon Laferte and Cafe Tacvba. All the songs are exquisite.

FERNÁNDEZ: All I have to say is that it takes a special kind of genius to be able to transform your own previous recordings in your own previous songs the way that Natalia Lafourcade did on this record. I think it's just stunning.

JOHNSON: I don't know how she does it. She brings in on some very subtle level, kind of a fresh, I would say, indie kind of sensibility. And they're not covers at all. They're somehow - manage to hold on to the integrity of the tunes and yet seem all of a sudden fresh again. There is not a song on this album that doesn't continue to amaze, even after you put it on repeat.

ARBONA-RUIZ: Right? It's exquisite. Everything's exquisite. And she has that gift of being able to see into those songs and pull in the right musicians and pull in the right harmonies, the right vocals, the right instrumentation to do that, to make it fresh like that.

CONTRERAS: And we should also point out that Natalia Lafourcade comes from a very, very pop background. And her last two records before this were also explorations of folk music. So she's reinventing herself and her sound by digging deep into Mexican folk music. You can't go wrong with this record - "Un Canto Por México, Vol. 1." Again, for legal reasons, we can't play any music on the show, so you can find it on streaming services, and we encourage you all to go look for the record. Natalia Lafourcade "Un Canto Por México Vol. 1." Before we close out the show, let me go around the table, the virtual table here on Zoom, and ask each one of you, what were your impressions of the year in music from your particular perspective based on what's going on with the virus, what's going on with social justice movements, what were your impressions in Latin music this year, going around the table to start with you, Catalina, very quickly?

JOHNSON: Wow. That's a big question. Well, I'm not sure if it was because music provided such solace this year with all the difficulty. And also it was responsive to the times, whether it was the coronavirus or the lockdowns or George Floyd's murder. In some way, music seemed incredible this year. I was like, my gosh, how can there be so much amazing music? So I'm not sure if it was my listener perspective that I needed amazing music or - but I think it also was. I think artists always respond to the times. They always - they're fluid in that way. They're picking up whatever's happening around them, and then they are crafting it into their own expression. So the music that was being released this year - a lot of it was extremely extraordinary to me. I couldn't stop marveling at the eclecticism of our world, everything that we can claim as nuestra música, and I'm going to claim it all (laughter). There's, like, some music that's maybe more my sister or my half-sister. And then there's music that's more my cousin, but there's music that's more like my great-great-great grandfather. But hey, it's all a part of our musical DNA. And the way it all played out this year was quite extraordinary.

CONTRERAS: Marisa?

ARBONA-RUIZ: Well, first of all, this year was just jolting in so many ways, and there was so much angst that I was moved more by the heart-centered music that was flowing out of musicians and the social justice music. I always say this music is the song of the heart. And we've come to this point in humanity where we're at a crisis - a crisis of the soul. And music is going to help us transform and is helping us transform that. And music is always there present in these times that are so transformational. And I will add that, you know, that is why musicians are always targeted by very negative political forces historically so, because artists speak from the heart in artists move people from that point of the heart. So everything that resonated with me was something that was going to lift the spirit and also give the message in a way that wasn't so much angry, but that was heart-centered.

CONTRERAS: Stefanie, your thoughts?

FERNÁNDEZ: Man, it's been a hard year. I think I have to confess that so much of this year I spent not thinking about music, but when I did listen to music, I wanted to come to music that would be healing or in some way tear at the pageantry of the music industry or at the veneer that everything's OK. So much of my favorite music this year had a hand in participating in the creation of a better world, and I hope we'll be able to see that intentionality a lot more going forward.

CONTRERAS: I can't add very much to what you have all expressed, just from the personal perspective and all the things that happened in my life this year and in what's going on in the world. I did turn to music to sort of help me understand what was going on in the world and what the world's trying to tell us with all the other things that came up this year, but also to remind us that the power of music and the power of these musicians that we cover, like one of you said, I'm just astounded at their ability to create even amidst all this stuff. Now, granted, some of this music was recorded before the lockdown, before the pandemic, but still, like some of the stuff that came out afterwards, the resilience and the powerful message of the music itself is something that astounds and help us cope and get through the unknown. I mean, there's so much to say. We could, you know, obviously dedicate a whole show to it. But it's nice to be able to look back at the year through some of our favorite records and what they meant to us. And so I really appreciate you all taking the time to really dig down deep and look at everything that came out this year and pull aside some of your favorites again. Thank you. Marisa Arbona-Ruiz, Catalina Maria Johnson and Stefanie Fernández, thank you all for joining us here on ALT.LATINO for our look back at the end of the year.

ARBONA-RUIZ: Thank you for having us - really, always wonderful.

FERNÁNDEZ: Thank you, Felix. Thank you, everyone.

JOHNSON: Thanks, Felix. Thank you so much, always a pleasure to share the music.

CONTRERAS: And stay tuned for next week when we talk about our favorite songs.

FERNÁNDEZ: Woo woo.

CONTRERAS: And we're going to close with another one of my favorites. This is a group called Ghetto Kumbé. They are from Colombia. It's from one of my favorite labels, ZZK, down in Argentina. It's a little-known group. It's a trio of Colombian musicians, but it caught my attention because it's percussion heavy - duh - and it straddles folkloric and futuristic music. And it's innovative in their use of all the elements of their collective experience in Colombia. And we're going to end with the track "Vamo A Dale Duro" from Ghetto Kumbé.

(SOUNDBITE OF GHETTO KUMBÉ SONG, "VAMO A DALE DURO")

CONTRERAS: What a year. Fortunately, we have music to help us get through this. And as you know, I say this every year, but it bears repeating this collection of albums, and this selection of songs coming next week is the soundtrack that I and our ALT.LATINO contributors leaned on heavily this year. There are plenty of other recordings that caught our ear over the year, and I would encourage you to go back and check out our playlist and the podcast to see what some of that music was. This has been ALT.LATINO from NPR Music. Thank you so much for listening. I'm Felix Contreras. Please be careful out there, folks.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "VAMO A DALE DURO")

CHONGO: (Singing) ...Tienes, siempre ganan y ellos pierden. Trasnocho sin parar, con la justicia y el maltrato, tu supuesto trato, solo dolor nos trajo. Con los que vienen de allá de abajo, con los que mueren en muchos casos, destruyen sin parar. Donde vivo el sueño, donde aclaro todo, por mi chamaco. Donde vivo yo, yo quiero crecer, tengo ya familia. Yo quiero una vida, porque otra no hay, porque otra no hay. Vamos a darle duro duro, a darle duro, duro. Vamos a darle duro, duro, a darle duro, duro. Vamos a darle, duro, a darle duro, duro. Vamos a darle duro, duro, a darle duro, duro.

GUAJIRO: (Singing) Somos la raza, el indio que no descansa. Defendemos la casa, su es parlante es para allá. Vendía esta la zona, la nube gris se asoma, el llanto vuelvo ahora y nadie sabe nada de nada.

CHONGO: (Singing) Va cambiando la cara de apoco, por la mamá pasó un barrejobo. Va sacando, vendiendo de todo. La esperanza la echaron a bala, y todo se lo pasan por la faja, y tienen a mi gente cegada. Vamos a darle duro duro, a darle duro, duro. Vamos a darle duro duro, a darle duro, duro. Vamos a darle duro, duro, a darle duro, duro. Vamos a darle duro, duro, a darle duro, duro. Vamos a darle duro, duro, a darle duro, duro. Vamos a darle duro, duro, a darle duro, duro. Vamos a darle duro, duro, a darle duro, duro. Vamos a darle duro, duro, a darle duro, duro. Yo quiero una vida, porque otra no hay, porque otra no hay. Vamos a darle duro duro, a darle duro, duro. Vamos a darle duro, duro, a darle duro, duro. Vamos a darle, duro, a darle duro, duro. Vamos a darle duro, duro, a darle duro, duro.

GUAJIRO: (Singing) Somos la raza, el indio que no descansa. Defendemos la casa, su es parlante es para allá. Vendía esta la zona, la nube gris se asoma, el llanto vuelvo ahora y nadie sabe nada de nada.

CHONGO: (Singing) Va cambiando la cara de apoco, por la mamá pasó un barrejobo. Va sacando, vendiendo de todo. La esperanza la echaron a bala, y todo se lo pasan por la faja, y tienen a mi gente cegada. Vamos a darle duro duro, a darle duro, duro. Vamos a darle duro duro, a darle duro, duro. Vamos a darle duro, duro, a darle duro, duro. Vamos a darle duro, duro, a darle duro, duro. Vamos a darle duro, duro, a darle duro, duro. Vamos a darle duro, duro, a darle duro, duro. Vamos a darle duro, duro, a darle duro, duro. Vamos a darle duro, duro, a darle duro, duro.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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