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.

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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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.

Mexico's musical output cuts such a wide swath across contemporary music on both sides of the border, it's often difficult to keep up. While pop music dominates, everything from mariachi to corridos to cumbia to mashups of any of the above make the country one of the most musically influential in Latin America.

The U.S./Mexico border is the source of intense political discourse and heartbreaking stories of people caught in between a multi-sided immigration debate. For quite a while now, very strident music has been coming out that reflects all of the above.

Fifty years ago, Johnny Cash performed at Folsom State Prison in Folsom, Calif. The January 1968 concert and live album it produced, At Folsom Prison, helped revitalize Cash's career, inspiring him to testify for prison reform and cementing his reputation as a voice for the downtrodden.

Jorge Drexler is a poet with a gift for song. The Uruguayan singer-songwriter, like the iconic Latin American lyricists of the past (Mercedes Sosa, Victor Jara and Silvio Rodriguez, to name just a few), has that rare ability to surround multi-layered prose with music that lends an even deeper resonance to the words.

It's not often that Rosicrucianism and a salsa-playing robot come up in the same conversation — chatting with Peruvian-born, New York-based musician, composer, robotics and software developer Efraín Rozas is a heady whirlwind.

Lara Bello occupies the space between genres where magic happens. Born in Spain, she was raised with not only Spanish traditions like flamenco and canto but also pop music and jazz. The instrumentation she assembled for her Tiny Desk reflects that elastic approach to genre: acoustic classical guitar, clarinet, violin and a percussionist who didn't keep time so much as color the proceedings.

Jenny and the Mexicats is a discovery from South by Southwest a few years ago that I haven't been able to get out of my mind, and with good reason: The band's high energy shows are unforgettable, as is its sound. Mixing flamenco, originally from southern Spain, with Jenny Ball's jazz trumpet background and a little bit of cumbia has created their one-of-a-kind musical identity.

I am not ashamed to admit it: I was overcome with emotion a few moments after entering Areito Estudio Ciento Uno (Areito Studio 101) inside the EGREM recording complex in the center of Havana, Cuba.

Raul Midón lives in a world of sound — blind since birth, Midón's interpretation of his surroundings is borderless. He sings with the passion of the best classic soul singers, and his instrumental chops stand along side the most accomplished jazz musicians.

Normally backed by a band that straddles styles just as well as he does, for his turn behind Bob Boilen's desk Midón stripped it down to just voice and guitar, the musical equivalent of tightrope walking without a net.

Even before The Beatles recorded their own version of "Twist and Shout," British fascination with American soul music has run deep. Vocalist and songwriter Alex Clare is yet another soul disciple from the UK, and his visit to Bob Boilen's desk is the perfect setting to bask in the power of his voice.

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