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.

Tiny Desk Concerts
7:03 am
Sat October 11, 2014

Raquel Sofia: Tiny Desk Concert

Colin Marshall NPR

Singer Raquel Sofia has spent most of her career 20 feet from stardom as a backup singer for Juanes and Shakira. But these days, she's got her own new album and tour, leading a small band of gifted musicians. Sofia's songs are about matters of the heart — and, as you'll hear in her performance here, it's hard to believe that feeling bad can sound this good. Her music doesn't wallow; instead, it makes me want to celebrate and experience the joy and pain along with her.

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Tiny Desk Concerts
12:54 pm
Mon September 29, 2014

Bio Ritmo: Tiny Desk Concert

Colin Marshall NPR

Latino migration in the U.S. has placed people of Afro-Caribbean heritage all over the country. Bio Ritmo's heritage leads directly back to that migration — and to the sound of Fania Records, which fueled Latin dance music's transition from the big-band mambos of the 1950s to the cutting-edge sounds of 1970s New York.

Bio Ritmo moves salsa music even further through stellar musicianship: crisp horn charts; a powerful rhythm section of timbales, congas and bongos; and a piano/bass combo that reminds me of the best groove masters in salsa and Latin jazz.

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Alt.Latino
11:03 am
Thu August 21, 2014

Puerto Rican Princesses And Mexican Centaurs

Princess Nokia.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Thu August 21, 2014 3:46 pm

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Tiny Desk Concerts
7:03 am
Sat August 9, 2014

Irene Diaz: Tiny Desk Concert

Irene Diaz performs a Tiny Desk Concert.
NPR

The first time I heard it, Irene Diaz's voice stopped me cold: Her sheer power belies her compact stature, and her musical impact is simply immense. With her musical partner Carolyn Cardoza strumming away intently on ukulele, Diaz conjures a place where emotions run deep and beauty is unmistakable. Watch them perform these four songs at the Tiny Desk to see what I mean.

Set List

  • "My Sweetest Sin"
  • "Crazy Love"
  • "Lover's Sway"
  • "I Love You Madly"

Credits

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Alt.Latino
11:31 am
Fri August 8, 2014

The Undeniable Strength Of A Great Song

Guatemalan rapper Kontra causes a stir at Alt.Latino this week.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Fri August 8, 2014 3:06 pm

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Tiny Desk Concerts
7:03 am
Sat August 2, 2014

Quetzal: Tiny Desk Concert

Tiny Desk Concert with Quetzal on June 27, 2014.
Sarah Tilotta NPR

The Southern California band Quetzal recently celebrated its 20th anniversary with a blowout concert that seemed to attract as many musicians as regular people. The band has maintained such a strong presence in the SoCal Chicano music scene that its members could be considered padrinos and padrinas of that free-flowing musical community.

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Alt.Latino
7:03 am
Fri August 1, 2014

From Alt.Latino, Five Conversations With Latin Music's Finest

Los Rakas.
Raka Pitufo Courtesy of the artist

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First Listen
10:03 pm
Sun July 20, 2014

First Listen: Quetzal, 'Quetzanimales'

Quetzal's new album, Quetzanimales, comes out July 29.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Wed August 6, 2014 1:26 pm

Twenty years is a long time in the life of a band. In the case of Quetzal, its two decades have been spent playing the soundtrack of its East L.A. neighborhoods: an evolving mash-up of Mexican son jarocho, low-rider oldies, cumbia, boleros, rock and blues.

Many Angelenos consider Quetzal as much as an institution as its East L.A. brethren in Los Lobos. Much of the current revival of son jarocho can be traced to Quetzal's history of playing the music when few others bothered.

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Alt.Latino
12:18 pm
Thu June 26, 2014

A New World Of Expression: Latino Identity Through Music

Alt.Latino's hosts love Ceci Bastida's Cuando Te Tenga.
Courtesy of the artist

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Alt.Latino
12:19 pm
Thu June 19, 2014

Guest DJ With Adrian Quesada, A Man Who Needs Four Bands

Adrian Quesada of Ocote Soul Sounds, Brownout Presents Brown Sabbath, The Echocentrics, and Spanish Gold.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Thu June 19, 2014 12:33 pm

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First Listen
10:45 pm
Sun June 15, 2014

First Listen: Rolê, 'New Sounds Of Brazil'

Lucas Santtana appears on the new compilation Rolê: New Sounds Of Brazil, out June 24.
Cristiano Caniche Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue June 24, 2014 9:30 am

This is not your parents' Brazilian music.

This is the Brazil where samba, bossa nova and Musica Popular Brasileira meet hip-hop, rock, jazz and electronica. Underneath all the contemporary mash ups is the DNA that makes Brazilian music some of the most vibrant on the planet: Interlocking rhythms that go right to the hips; melodies that never seem to veer into the somber minor keys; and drums of all shapes and sizes.

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First Listen
10:03 pm
Sun June 15, 2014

First Listen: Brownout, 'Brownout Presents Brown Sabbath'

Brownout's new album, Brownout Presents Brown Sabbath, comes out June 24.
Courtney Chavanell Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue June 24, 2014 9:31 am

One of my first album purchases ever was Black Sabbath's Masters of Reality in 1971. I actually took it back to my local Tower Records where I bought it because it sounded like there was something wrong with the sound. The guitars, I told them, they sound muffled and fuzzy.

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A Blog Supreme
4:30 pm
Fri June 13, 2014

Ethereal Jazz Singer Jimmy Scott Dies

Jimmy Scott performs at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in 2001.
Leon Morris Redferns

Originally published on Sat June 14, 2014 12:59 pm

Singer Jimmy Scott died of natural causes Thursday morning at his home in Las Vegas at age 88, according to his booking agent, Jean-Pierre Leduc.

Scott suffered from Kallmann's syndrome, a lifelong affliction that prevented his body from maturing through puberty. The condition slowed his growth, leaving his stature at 4 feet 11 inches until his late 30s. It also affected his vocal cords, giving him a high voice that was often misidentified as a woman's.

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First Listen
10:03 pm
Sun May 11, 2014

First Listen: Pasatono Orquesta, 'Maroma'

Pasatono Orquesta's new album, Maroma, comes out on May 20.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue May 20, 2014 11:55 am

They had me at "vintage Mexican circus music." Maroma, the new album by the roots band Pasotono Orquesta, is dedicated to music of the one-man circuses — known as maroma — that traveled in rural Mexico during the late 19th century. The big-tent circuses, or carpas, were pared down to a single clown who had to tell jokes, juggle, perform light acrobatics and even recite poetry.

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All Songs Considered
2:20 pm
Tue May 6, 2014

The Grateful Dead's Ultimate 'Dark Star' To Be Reissued

John Oswald's Grayfolded, an epic version of the Grateful Dead's song "Dark Star," is getting a reissue on three LPs.
Courtesy of the artist

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A Blog Supreme
2:08 pm
Thu May 1, 2014

Remembering Armando Peraza, An Afro-Cuban Percussion Giant

It's hard to imagine a musical career that included musicians as varied as Charlie Parker, Peggy Lee, George Shearing and Carlos Santana. But such was hand percussionist Armando Peraza's resumé after almost 70 years making music.

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First Listen
10:03 pm
Sun April 27, 2014

First Listen: Arturo O'Farrill & The Afro Latin Orchestra, 'The Offense Of The Drum'

Arturo O'Farrill and The Afro Latin Orchestra's new album, The Offense of the Drum, comes out May 6.
Rebecca Meek Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Mon April 28, 2014 3:14 pm

The Offense of the Drum is one of those moments when the course of music with a long tradition is altered slightly — when music moves forward in a subtle and graceful way that's likely to have a lasting impact.

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First Listen
10:03 pm
Sun April 27, 2014

First Listen: Pacifika, 'Amor Planeta'

Pacifika's new album, Amor Planeta, comes out May 6.
JP Carousel Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Mon June 2, 2014 2:20 pm

The music of Pacifika draws you in almost immediately: The Vancouver trio's musicianship is superb, buoyed by a voice that stopped me in my tracks the first time I heard it. Pacifika's sound has been labeled as world fusion, but that label is more of a restriction than a description. The group's acoustic base and subtle electronic flourishes provided a great way to start its musical journey, but Amor Planeta raises the stakes with an electric-guitar bite that adds a crucial dimension.

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Alt.Latino
11:03 am
Sat April 26, 2014

'Cesar Chavez': Discussing The Movie And The Man

Cesar Chavez, co-founder of the United Farm Workers, speaks at a rally in 1977.
Cathy Murphy Getty Images

Originally published on Thu May 1, 2014 12:01 pm

There is no music in this week's episode of Alt.Latino. Instead, we do one of our occasional "deep dives" into a subject to pursue insights and perspectives that help us think about more than music. This time around, the subject is Cesar Chavez, the recent biopic about the civil-rights activist and labor leader and the movement to unionize farm workers.

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Tiny Desk Concerts
2:48 pm
Mon April 21, 2014

Federico Aubele: Tiny Desk Concert

Federico Aubele performs at a Tiny Desk Concert in February 2014.
Jim Tuttle NPR

Argentine singer-songwriter Federico Aubele uses his dark, husky voice to produce a specific effect in the three songs he performs at this Tiny Desk Concert: Together, they jell into one impressionistic midtempo ballad.

A voice like Aubele's could be restrictive: His lower register seems to always reflect something dark and lonely. Think of your favorite bottom-scraping vocalist and the lyrics he or she interprets.

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The Record
4:28 pm
Wed February 26, 2014

Paco De Lucia, Modern Superstar Of Flamenco, Dies

Paco de Lucia in 1982.
Paco Junquera Getty Images

Originally published on Thu February 27, 2014 11:08 am

Paco de Lucia, considered by his fans and critics to be the world's greatest flamenco guitarist, died Wednesday in Mexico of a heart attack. The 66-year-old musician was a modern superstar in a Roma, or Gypsy, tradition that is hundreds of years old.

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Tiny Desk Concerts
7:03 am
Sat February 22, 2014

Sofia Rei: Tiny Desk Concert

John Poole NPR

Originally published on Sun February 23, 2014 10:11 pm

A drum from the Argentine Pampas fuels the music of Sofia Rei in this video: The way Franco Pinna has it incorporated into a traditional drum set serves as a musical metaphor for the music Rei performs alongside Pinna and guitarist/bassist JC Maillard.

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Code Switch
6:24 pm
Fri February 7, 2014

Ringing In Black History Month With Latin Music

Peru's Novalima infuses the Afro-Peruvian landó of Susana Baca's music with electronica.
Courtesy of Musuk Nolte

Originally published on Fri February 7, 2014 7:40 pm

Editor's note: It is February and that can mean only one thing. It is time for Black, Latino And Proud: Black History Month With Alt.Latino hosted by our friends and colleagues Felix Contreras and Jasmine Garsd. We pass the mic to Felix to hear what they will be featuring on NPR's Latin Alternative music podcast.

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First Listen
10:02 pm
Sun January 26, 2014

First Listen: Gina Chavez, 'Up.Rooted'

Gina Chavez's new album, Up.Rooted, comes out Feb. 15.
Judson Baker Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue February 11, 2014 10:14 am

Gina Chavez's voice stops you in your tracks the first time you hear it. At least that's how it worked for me when I came upon her performance during South by Southwest a few years ago. She was playing a semi-acoustic set on a sunlit patio above a busy sports bar — a setting not exactly conducive to her intimate songwriting.

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Tiny Desk Concerts
1:19 pm
Mon December 16, 2013

La Santa Cecilia: Tiny Desk Concert

La Santa Cecilia performs a Tiny Desk Concert in November 2013.
Meredith Rizzo Meredith Rizzo/NPR

Originally published on Mon December 23, 2013 11:22 am

La Santa Cecilia spreads joy every time its members plug in to do a show. They do it one dance step at a time, with cumbias, corridos, elegant mambos and plain old rock 'n' roll.

I first saw La Santa Cecilia perform in an Austin, Texas, parking lot about five years ago. As all great bands do, it showcased an It Factor that has only intensified as the L.A.-based, Mexican-American group works tirelessly to perfect its musical vision.

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