Felix Contreras

Felix Contreras is co-host of Alt.Latino, NPR's web-based 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.

Cali Rivera, the Puerto Rico-born founder of the highly regarded JCR Percussion in the Bronx, died this past Sunday from complications of a brain tumor at 79 years old, according to his wife and business partner Lily Rivera.

"Summer's here and the time is right for dancing in the street"

Well, maybe not the street but certainly in Central Park in N.Y.C., Addams/Medill Park in Chicago, Fringe Arts in Philadelphia and Bed-Stuy in Brooklyn.

Carlos Santana turns 70 years old Thursday. It's difficult to wrap my head around that: To me, as to so many other fans, he'll forever be the just-turned-22-year-old grimacing and grooving at Woodstock in August 1969.

Note: This piece is better heard than read. To hear this review and the specific musical moments it references, listen at the audio link.

The other day, while listening to NPR's Code Switch podcast, I heard an insightful story about the new sanctuary movement. It's an informal network of churches across the U.S., all offering refuge to folks who face imminent deportation because of their immigration status.

There are a few lines from the oft-covered song "México Americano" that sum up the experience of millions of folks in the U.S. and have always seemed to me to be the ultimate expression of patriotism:

Por mi madre soy Mexicano. (From my mother I am Mexican.)

Por destino soy Americano. (By destiny I am American.)

The artist Helado Negro (Roberto Lange) made a very big impression on me when I first experienced him almost eight years ago. It was a sound I had never quite heard, and I was immediately drawn in; there were layers of synths, percussion that percolated rather than pulsed, vocals that epitomized the world ethereal and lyrics in Spanish and English that floated amidst the music like wisps of smoke.

Danay Suarez is one of Cuba's most underappreciated exports. In March, the vocalist and rapper released a new album, Palabras Manuales, that went criminally under-noticed. It's a strong sophomore effort that showcases Suarez's sophisticated style of rapping and beautiful singing voice, which intertwines itself with her evocative lyrics like a beguiling ocean spray.

This week, Alt.Latino brings you a summer music magazine featuring three young Latinx artists whose work reflects the reality and joy of life through music and the visual arts.

Writer Gabby Rivera Is A True Superhero

Jun 15, 2017

When writer Gabby Rivera read an email from Marvel Comics asking her to write for them, she was convinced it was spam at first.

But it turned out to be legit: Marvel wanted Rivera to put words to a new comic series featuring the queer, Latinx superhero America Chavez. The next thing she knew, Rivera was deep in research on superheroes from Marvel's vast archive.

Many musicians spend some of their time offstage passing on their knowledge to young, budding artists via music lessons. For their part, the members of the band Making Movies have dedicated themselves to working with youth in underprivileged areas of Kansas City, Mo. They say it keeps them grounded and connected to their roots — while at the same time providing inspiration for songwriting.

Hear Vicky Diaz-Camacho tell Making Movies' story at the audio link.

This week's show celebrates the concept of collaboration in two very important ways. First, it is the story of the Puerto Rican band ÌFÉ and its innovative, collective approach to the spiritual side of Yoruba culture. Bandleader Otura Mun has assembled a group of musicians steeped in the Afro-Caribbean culture of the drum, and together they have created a sound that is both familiar and completely new.

On his first full-length solo album, Fantasmas (Ghosts), Alexander Zavala appears to us — amidst specters — as a messenger of sonic relief.

Mexico is not known as one of the international jazz capitals of the world. New York, Tokyo — even Havana.

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.

In 2009 PBS aired a documentary series with the ambitious goal of chronicling the various styles of music made by Latino musicians here in the U.S.

It was a daunting task for sure and they largely pulled it off. I mean, they had four hours to cover everything from accordions along the Texas-Mexican border to Afro Caribbean drums in New York. It was a fascinating experience watching it back then, even inspiring because of the music and the stories behind the music.

In many ways, the traditions of flamenco and jazz could not be further apart, but in the hands of a few Spanish jazz musicians, these two worlds commingle and find common ground. Antonio Lizana is one such musician, both a saxophonist and vocalist with one foot firmly planted in each tradition. As a vocalist he has mastered the Moorish, note-bending improvisations that make flamenco singing so beguiling, while the fluidity of ideas he expresses as a saxophonist place him in the time-honored tradition of composing while playing.

These guys had me at their name.

Ever since I heard the first EP back in 2009 I've watched Chicano Batman grow, with a sound that perfectly captures dark lounges, quinceañera dances, car shows and backyard parties.

Lots of other folks have heard something in this music — since that debut the band has played some of the biggest outdoor music festivals for diverse crowds around the country.

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