Felix Contreras

Felix Contreras is co-creator and host of Alt.Latino, NPR's pioneering program about Latin Alternative music and Latino culture. It features music as well as interviews with many of the most well-known Latinx musicians, actors, filmmakers, and writers. He has hosted and produced Alt.Latino episodes from Mexico, Colombia, Cuba, and throughout the U.S. since the show started in 2010.

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

Contreras is a recovering television journalist who has worked for both NBC and Univision in Miami and California. He's a part-time musician who plays Afro-Cuban percussion with various jazz and Latin bands in the Washington, DC, area. He is also NPR Music's resident Deadhead.

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.


There is something going on in Cuba that is, quite simply, raising the bar on music of all kinds. An incredibly talented and visionary group of Cuban millennials are reimagining their African roots through a lens that filters, jazz, soul and funk. And Daymé Arocena is literally giving voice to this movement.

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 covers for Miguel Zenón's recent albums are almost worth buying on their own: evocative, full of personality, compelling as storytelling.

Some say you have to have loved and lost to appreciate the beauty of the bolero. Since its inception in Cuba in the early 20th century, the music has been designed for thoughtful and emotional consideration of the joys and pains that come with loving someone so intensely, it becomes like a religion to adore that special someone (an actual bolero lyric).

Lila Downs has spent her career exploring the furthest reaches of Mexican folk music. With a voice that borrows heavily from opera, Downs performs the kind of full-throated mariachi singing that would fit right in at Mexico City's Garibaldi Square — ground zero for mariachi.

When singer Alsarah left her native Sudan, she was just a child who'd shown an interest in music. She's said it served as her coping mechanism during a subsequent transition to life here in the U.S. That passion led her to a university degree in ethnomusicology.

At first, I was taken in by this band's name.

Then I was knocked out by its "old is new" approach to old-school Chicano funk and soul. And eventually I was won over by the psychedelic veneer with which it glosses everything it touches.

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


The first thing we must note about this album by the Hart Valley Drifters is that it is not the most authentic bluegrass or old-time music. This is not from a long-lost box of tapes found in a dusty closet, not performed by a group of master folk musicians from somewhere in Appalachia.

This week, Alt.Latino takes a literary turn as we explore the world of Latino noir.

Good guys, bad guys and cops who are both; murder, intrigue and gallows humor; highly stylized writing — it's all there, as with any noir fiction. But these books and stories are written by Latinx authors.

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

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released.


Dizzy Gillespie once described Charlie Parker as the other half of his heartbeat. They were young men creating something from whole cloth, stretching the limits of their creativity and intellect every time they drew a breath together on the bandstand.

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

When I first saw Nina Diaz back in 2010, she was fronting a punk trio from San Antonio called Girl In A Coma. She and the band sounded ferocious, with an unmistakable spirit of fun — for proof, here's their Tiny Desk concert from a couple years later.

Rudy Van Gelder, an audio recording engineer who captured the sounds of many of jazz's landmark albums, died Thursday morning in his sleep. He was at his home studio in New Jersey, according to Maureen Sickler, his assistant engineer. He was 91.

When Jerry Garcia died unexpectedly in August 1995, his Grateful Dead bandmate Bob Weir went right back out on the road to deal with the loss of his friend.

Friday marks the official launch of the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, where an array of Brazilian music is expected in the opening ceremonies. While all eyes are on Brazil for the next two weeks, we here at Alt.Latino get to share our own love affair with the country's vast musical heritage. My short conversation with David Greene on NPR's Morning Edition, at the audio link above, is just the tip of the iceberg — of both the music and our coverage.

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

Jane Bunnett knows a few things about Cuban music. She and her husband, trumpeter Larry Cramer, have been traveling to the island from their home base of Toronto for more than 30 years. They've collaborated with musicians there, as well as back home in Canada and on tours around the globe.

Sometimes it's necessary to get back to basics. In the case of Los Hacheros, that means returning to the deep groove of Afro-Caribbean music that provides the source material for modern salsa and all of its permutations.

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RAY SUAREZ, HOST:

Well, it's summertime, Fourth of July weekend. Let's take a music break. I asked my buddy Felix Contreras, host of NPR Music's Alt.Latino podcast to recommend some tunes. Felix, what'd you bring me?

Together, saxophonist Charles Lloyd and pianist Jason Moran make jazz that draws from the past while looking to the future. Lloyd's body of work stretches back to the mid-1960s, and has always shown a disregard for boundaries and cliches. He seems determined to work through the later part of his career with artistically and spiritually motivated playing that simply astounds.

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


California's San Joaquin Valley runs right along the middle of the state, from just south of Bakersfield up to Sacramento. It was ground zero for Cesar Chavez's groundbreaking campaign for farmworkers, and it was where I met Agustín Lira when I lived in Fresno.

Carrie Rodriguez has been many things: a classically trained violinist turned American fiddler, a duet partner to veteran songwriter Chip Taylor, a successful and popular solo artist in her own right. On occasion, those roles have allowed her Mexican-American roots to bubble to the surface — perhaps in a line sung in Spanish, or through a reference to a classic mariachi song.

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