Felix Contreras

Felix Contreras is host of Alt.Latino, NPR's program about Latin Alternative music and Latino culture. It features music as well as interviews with many of the most well-known Latino musicians, actors, film makers and writers.

Previously, Contreras was a producer and reporter for NPR's Arts Desk and covered, among other stories and projects: a series reported from Mexico introducing the then-new musical movement called Latin Alternative; a series of stories on the financial challenges facing aging jazz musicians; and helped produce NPR's award-winning series 50 Great Voices.

He once stood on the stage of the legendary jazz club The Village Vanguard after interviewing the club's owner and swears he felt the spirits of Coltrane and Monk walking through the room.

Contreras is a recovering television journalist who has worked for both NBC and Univision. He's also a part-time musician who plays Afro-Cuban percussion with various jazz and Latin bands.

It's appropriate that the pioneering Mexican band Café Tacvba (Tacuba) start its set with "Olita del Altamar" ("Waves from the High Seas") from the group's 2012 album El Objeto Antes Llamado Disco. It's essentially an incantation of the magic that transpired during their performance behind Bob Boilen's desk. The lyrics sing of the comings and goings of waves, symbolic of the passage of time and fueled by the Mexican folk rhythm son jarocho, a favorite of the band's since their start almost 30 years ago.

For those that don't know their Latin music history as well as they should, it's easy to write off José Feliciano as just the guy who wrote and sang that Christmas song "Feliz Navidad." Maybe they'd be aware that he also wrote and performed the theme song to 1970's NBC sitcom Chico and the Man.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Let's remember this morning how Havana sounded back in the 1950s and 1960s.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

There's so much joy in the sound of the Hammond organ, especially for those of us of a certain age. Hearing it can transport you to the early '70s, when every rock band seemed to have one in its arsenal: The Allman Brothers, Santana, Deep Purple. In the hands of true masters — like the late Billy Preston and the very-much-alive Booker T. Jones — the organ can be a melodic, funky rhythm machine.

In the days leading up to the November 2016 election, I taped an episode of Alt.Latino that was intended to be a musical healing session. For just about everyone in the country, the campaign season was rough ride and I had created a healing playlist for myself, which I then decided to share.

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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

It's been quite the week. Many people have taken to social media to express not only their opinions of recent political news but also a sense of emotional exhaustion. Alt.Latino's Felix Contreras joins me now. Felix, welcome. And are you feeling exhausted?

Magos Herrera's talent refuses to be limited by genre. The Mexico-born artist is generally considered a jazz singer, but has also taken on Brazilian-influenced pop and Mexican rock. On her latest effort, Herrara partnered with the string quartet Brooklyn Rider to create the classically-inspired, and culturally relevant album Dreamers.

Unless you've experienced it, it's difficult to fathom just how intense the power of a Category 4 hurricane is. And to get slammed by two in less than a month?

It's bee a while since Alt.Latino has published an all Spanish podcast and we were way overdue. And what an artist to start with: La Dame Blanche is a cigar-smoking, classically trained flutist who is making a name for herself as a rapera in the ever expanding and fascinating world of Cuban hip-hop.

Some folks around the NPR Music office said they felt an almost spiritual connection to Erykah Badu during her visit to the Tiny Desk. And that was before she and her band even played a single note. It came from the waft of earthly scents that followed in her wake, to the flowing dreads and clothes that hung on her like robes.

When the 10 members of Tower of Power were in place behind Bob Boilen's desk, strategically positioned around the band's famous five-piece horn section, their first collective blast three beats into the sound check literally made the video crew jump. It was more a force of nature than a sound, and an impressive display of the "five fingers operating as one hand" concept of band cohesiveness.

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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Lalah Hathaway comes from royalty: Her late father Donny Hathaway's voice was crucial for my generation, setting the bar for inspired, old-school soul singing. But living in that kind of shadow can also be a burden, robbing the offspring of an identity apart from that of the famous parent.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Bandcamp playlist at the bottom of the page.


The music on Prisma Tropical is the sound of a band maturing and finding its voice with such a strong creative force that it's akin to the birth of a star in astronomy.

Joe Jackson, patriarch of the legendary Jackson family, which included Michael and Janet Jackson, has died, the estate of Michael has confirmed in a statement. No cause of death was given, though he had reportedly been diagnosed with cancer.

Officially, Joe Jackson was a band manager, taking five of his sons from a locally celebrated pop vocal group in Gary, Ind., in the mid-1960s to international acclaim, acting as the launchpad to superstardom for his son Michael. Their paths, however, would be revealed through the decades as ones paved in checkers.

There is a sonic revolution happening in Cuba these days. A new generation of musicians are taking the training they received in Cuba's fabled classical music academies to new heights by incorporating not just jazz, but hip-hop, funk and any manner of experimental music. Yissy García and Bandancha may be the best example of that vanguard.

The history of television and film portrayals of people of color is pretty abysmal. Either we are not present, just in the background and stereotyped, or we're cast as maids, gardeners, servants or the comic buffoon. In my lifetime, I have never been exposed consistently to characters who either look like me, act like me or reflect my reality of those around me.

Notice I said consistently. There have been exceptions, but it seems we've had to wait patiently for portrayals that we recognize as being significant to our lives.

Colombian pop star Juanes and Chilean singer Mon Laferte recently wrapped up a sold-out tour of the United States, which (lucky for us) included a stop at the Tiny Desk.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify or Apple Music playlist at the bottom of the page.


The guys in Brownout have done it again.

They have gone to the deep well of uncut funk to produce yet another homage to classic soul that further burnishes their reputation as keepers of the funk flame.

The presence of accordion-powered European dance music along the Texas/Mexico border is a phenomenon only about a hundred years old, forged as twists of historical fate made Tejanos and Polish farmers neighbors in the region's rural communities. One thing led to another, and soon Mexican-Americans were singing Spanish lyrics over the oompah of polkas and Bavarian waltzes. But despite its short history, Tex-Mex conjunto has made a profound cultural impact and become an identifying characteristic of an entire subculture of the Latino community here in the U.S.

When someone once asked Nando Chang if he was into Tupac, the Peruvian American hip-hop fan thought the reference was to Tupac Amaru, a legendary Incan warrior.

Updated 3:21 p.m., April 27 with more detailed information on Charles Neville's passing.

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