Felix Contreras

I am not ashamed to admit it: I was overcome with emotion a few moments after entering Areito Estudio Ciento Uno (Areito Studio 101) inside the EGREM recording complex in the center of Havana, Cuba.

Amara La Negra is a force of nature.

I don't think you could find two acts with sounds as different as the dreamy rock grooves of The Marias and the explosive Afro-Latina expression of Amara La Negra. But there they were, sharing the stage for two hours right in the middle of the week at SXSW 2018.

There's plenty to hear on stages across Austin during SXSW, and what you can hear on this page is just a taste — a recording of a pair of live shows from Alt.Latino's showcase at the Radio Day Stage on Wednesday.

Raul Midón lives in a world of sound — blind since birth, Midón's interpretation of his surroundings is borderless. He sings with the passion of the best classic soul singers, and his instrumental chops stand along side the most accomplished jazz musicians.

Normally backed by a band that straddles styles just as well as he does, for his turn behind Bob Boilen's desk Midón stripped it down to just voice and guitar, the musical equivalent of tightrope walking without a net.

Even before The Beatles recorded their own version of "Twist and Shout," British fascination with American soul music has run deep. Vocalist and songwriter Alex Clare is yet another soul disciple from the UK, and his visit to Bob Boilen's desk is the perfect setting to bask in the power of his voice.

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We are living through an amazing moment — a cultural shift spurred by the #MeToo and #TimesUp movement that is bringing with it a rising awareness among men (some, at least) of the abuse of, or blindness to, the power imbalance at the bedrock of our culture, and of the abuse and misconduct that imbalance breeds toward the women in our lives, at work or otherwise.

Watching Betsayda Machado y Parranda El Clavo perform their Tiny Desk concert is like peering back in time. The music's roots extend to the Venezuelan slave trade, and while the vocals are in Spanish and not an African dialect, the instruments the group plays date back more than 500 years.

Austin-based singer/songwriter Gina Chavez has always worn her emotions on her sleeve.

Her deeply felt ruminations on things like identity, love, life, fun and joy have made her music an Alt.Latino favorite for quite a few years now. Chavez's voice is perfectly suited to reflect all of those experiences and to take us to places where we dare to let our emotional guards down.

In the spring of 2014, I was in the audience at Vive Latino, the massive music festival held in Mexico City every year, when Chilean hip-hop artist Ana Tijoux took the stage.

The twin sisters in Ibeyi started their turn behind the Tiny Desk by singing an invocation of a West African Yoruba deity.

They come by their connection to the Afro-Cuban culture by way of their late father, Miguel "Anga" Diaz, an in-demand Cuban percussionist who was part of a vanguard musicians who reinvigorated Cuban music before he died prematurely at age 45 in 2006. The sisters, Lisa-Kaindé and Naomi Díaz, carry that calling in their DNA, and how they've manifested it into their own art is nothing short of amazing.

Singer-songwriter Vicente García is still relatively under the radar, but performances like the one he gave at the Tiny Desk are starting to turn some heads.

García's music isn't dominated by his native Dominican Republic, but you can hear it in every note. His poetic lyrics are like short stories, sung by a voice both plaintive and evocative, yet always distinct.

There are not enough superlatives to describe Rita Moreno. At an age when most are well past their most productive years, the Puerto Rico-born Moreno just completed the second season of Netflix's One Day At A Time.

One of the first things to understand about Cuban music is that for most of the last five decades, there has been no recording industry there.

The Cuban government nationalized the existing industry in 1964. From then on, it more or less controlled what was recorded in the famed EGREM (Empresa de Grabaciones y Ediciones Musicales) studio complex in central Havana, a storied studio that I visited in 2016.

The folks at Daptone Records know a thing or two about the magic of recording studios.

Sometimes albums speak for themselves and other times hearing from the artists themselves helps us appreciate the nuances of motivation and influence. The Kansas City based band Making Movies certainly makes music that stands on it's own. Its 2017 album I Am Another You was a finely crafted collection of stories that reflected on the immigrant experience encased in a spectacular musical landscape.

What are the holidays without Charlie Brown?

Nowadays, the quietly elegant and celebratory recordings by pianist Vince Guaraldi have become as much a part of the holidays as the sound of unwrapping presents. And every year we are treated to at least one interpretation of that classic Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack by one of the pianists on NPR's A Jazz Piano Christmas. This year is no exception.

During one of my first visits to New York in the early '80s, I was invited to a "private party." I was told not tell anyone about it or even reveal where it would be. So — of course — I went, intrigued by the clandestine, members-only vibe.

It was held in a dinky basement somewhere on the Lower East Side, where some guy had set up his home stereo in a corner while drinks were sold in small plastic cups for five bucks (cash only). There was a killer mix of disco (the '80s, remember?) and tracks like Led Zepplin's "Kashmir."

The following is an Encore presentation of a program that originally aired on December 17, 2015.


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.

For someone from my generation, which grew up with the sound, it is a complete joy to see younger artists embrace soul music in such creative ways. Equally thrilling is to witness the genre's influence in Latin America and how it has been interpreted by the region's vocalists, whose first language may not have been English.