Felix Contreras

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.

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.


Omar Sosa seemingly can do no wrong.

As part of our celebration of Black History Month and Afro-Latino culture, we turn this week to how the influence of Africa has been interpreted in various Latin and Caribbean cultures. The music of West Africa, where a majority of those enslaved in the Americas came from, was diffused through both an indigenous and Spanish filter to become the distinct sounds and rhythms that we know today.

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.

Each year on Jazz Piano Christmas, we celebrate with one of the most beloved holiday traditions, music. This year, we add another sacred tradition common to every community: family. The stage at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington Dec. 10 was overflowing with love as father-daughter and husband-wife duos let fly with love for each other and the holiday canon.

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.

The 59th Annual Grammy nominees were announced Tuesday morning, and while familiar names appeared among the five Latin music categories, there were also some nice surprises.

I have to give credit where credit is due: I found out about the subject of this week's Alt.Latino from a New York Times article relating the story of the discovery of a box of recording-session masters from the now-defunct Caife record label in Quito, Ecuador, dating back to the late 1950s and early '60s.

It's hard to imagine this quietly subtle performer belting out vocals in front of tens of thousands of fans as part of the wildly popular hip-hop group Calle 13. But Ileana Cabra, who performs solo as iLe, lives that kind of life.

We don't talk politics on Alt.Latino, but the core of our mission is to bring people together through music. So this week's episode is something special, with very little talking amidst quiet music that we offer in the hope that it helps you heal after this one-of-a-kind election season.

This week's show was recorded before Tuesday's elections, in the spirit of embracing the future no matter the outcome. So let's all take a deep breath, let it out, and listen.

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