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.


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

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Note: NPR's Audio for First Listens comes down after the album is released.


How do you go back to the well after 40 years spent drawing up buckets and buckets of creativity? Where do you find the inspiration? How do you get motivated? How do you stare down that blank page one more time?

Last December, the night before Barack Obama announced that he would seek to update U.S. relations with Cuba, Arturo O'Farrill and The Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra played a gig at Havana's U.S. Interest Section.

When mariachi musician Nati Cano died last year the world lost a true cultural warrior. His dedication to the Mexican folk music was a lifelong passion that took place initially in bars and at public events, then eventually on the world's greatest stages.

His singular focus was highlighting the deep and complex beauty of mariachi, and he was recording yet another album for Smithsonian Folkways when he died unexpectedly in October.

The Colombian folkloric vocalist Totó la Momposina is considered a living, cultural treasure in that country. Since the 1970s, she has been singing and dancing to the music of the Colombian Caribbean coast on stages around the world.

For the 50th anniversary of the Grateful Dead's founding, the band will perform three shows — their last — in Chicago this weekend. According to Billboard magazine, the "Fare Thee Well" concerts will bring in an estimated $50 million. That's pretty impressive, considering that band's lead guitarist died two decades ago.

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