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.

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 singer-guitarist Susan Tedeschi sings and plays, you can hear the sound move from the Mississippi Delta up to Chicago. As this video shows, she can dispense uptempo dance grooves and coax her voice around the anguished lyric of the blues.

Sometimes if feels as if the crowds at Stubb's BBQ during SXSW are just too cool to dance. But not tonight. Southern California's Chicano Batman sent waves of velvet-sounding Chicano soul out over the audience at Stubb's — think 1970s-era guitar and organ funk played by a band outfitted in quicenera tuxedos. When the band shifted into a high energy cumbia I saw spontaneous dancing breaking out on the dirt floor of the outdoor venue.

On Sunday night, the 88th annual Academy Awards will once again gather together the movie industry in a lavish ceremony to acknowledge the year's most celebrated performances and films. For some, though, the Oscars represent just another instance of the cool kids gussied up for prom night, trying to ignore The Others gathered by the punch bowl.

This week, Alt.Latino takes a deep dive into the animated Fox sitcom Bordertown with two of its writers, Lalo Alcaraz and Gustavo Arellano. Alcaraz is also the author of the Latino-themed syndicated comic strip La Cucaracha, while Arellano writes an advice column called Ask A Mexican for OC Weekly in Orange County, Calif.

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.


In my mind, there's a magical Mexican restaurant located somewhere in Austin, Texas; it's a place where people of all cultures, backgrounds, ages and languages rub elbows over mouthwatering Tex-Mex combination plates. Aging hippies, Chicano hipsters, old-school Texans in cowboy hats, abuelitas, blues musicians, Western fiddlers — they're all there.

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.


It's hard to keep a good idea down. In 1996, Richard Blair and Sidestepper introduced their innovative mix of Afro-Colombian and pop music to a Colombian scene that was about to explode onto the world stage.

Mariachi Flor de Toloache's 2014 self-titled debut album earned a Latin Grammy nomination in the Best Ranchera category — quite an accomplishment, given that the category celebrates an incredibly long tradition of Mexican music. But it was no fluke: The group's members come by their mariachi skills honestly and with endless practice, while still looking for ways to take chances.

What's a New Year's Eve party without music?

This week, Texas DJ Luis Espada (a.k.a. King Louie) of the Peligrosa collective visits Alt.Latino to share samples of the style they created — the one they call "screwmbia."

Holiday music is typically a love-it-or-hate-it sort of thing. I'm a fan — my favorite is Vince Guaraldi's A Charlie Brown Christmas — and I even I'll admit that musicians don't have many options for putting a new spin on holiday classics.

Then along came Gaby Moreno and her band.

When I tell people, "I saw Jaco play," I'm sometimes held in the same kind of reverential wonder that I shower on those who saw John Coltrane. Such is the reverence for his prolific, genre-busting vision and killer chops (jazz speak for an intensely creative display of technical prowess).

Every year the Latin Grammy Awards go BIG when they present their annual ceremony on the Spanish-language, television network, Univision: big productions, dancers, special collaborations, splashy sets, lots of pop stars and musical icons. Often, the Latin Grammy voters reflect that approach with their selections. But every now and then they show an adventurous spirit that rewards artistry over glitz.

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


You either get The Grateful Dead or you don't, to the point where it's virtually impossible to explain. So why bother?

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


Carla Morrison's music exists in a private emotional space where she can address joys, heartbreaks and secret desires. But her words also speak to larger pursuits in life: family, career, child-rearing, friendship, lifelong relationships. There are lessons in her delicate voice if you listen for the deeper meanings.

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


Grupo Fantasma's raucous, good-time mix of funk, cumbia and soul emerged from the clubs of Austin at the start of the century, bringing with it a fresh sensibility for Tejano music. Now, the band faces a challenge: How do you make that great idea even better?

Kid Frost is a bit of a pioneer in Latin rap, and his 1990 track "La Raza" is also a ground breaking track, sampling the El Chicano jazz/rock classic "Viva Tirado." All of that is a given.

What blows my mind is that it has been 25 years since that song was released!

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Transcript

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