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.

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.

Enjoy!

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.

Three years ago, I was putting together an episode of Alt.Latino that featured some of the contestants of the Tiny Desk Contest. When I clicked on the video for Bay Area vocalist Diana Gameros, I was immediately transfixed and life seemed to stop all around me.

The "Despacito" phenomenon continues with this morning's announcement of the 2018 Grammy nominations. However, while it was the original Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee version that won big at the Latin Grammys, it was the Justin Bieber remix that got nods this morning for record of the year, song of the year and best pop duo/group performance.

Editor's Note: Disney's Pixar has released the box office numbers from the first weekend of Coco's release. The word "dominates" was used in a story from The New York Times. Here is a detailed breakdown of those numbers from the industry website IMDb.

It was about time for another Alt.Latino road trip.

I moved the Alt.Latino World Headquarters to Las Vegas for a week to cover the events leading up to and including the 18th annual Latin Grammy awards.

Along the way I met up with the very talented young ladies from Flor de Toloache to help me host our show and cover some of the artists attending this week.

We found some of the Alt.Latino artists we have covered through out the year and made some new friends as well.

"Despacito" continued its magical run of success by earning four statuettes tonight at the 18th annual Latin Grammy Awards held at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.

The MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas is ground zero for Latin Grammy action. Most of the artists are staying here, so the elevator lobbies are jammed with people waiting for a glimpse and a selfie with their favorite pop stars.

On the last weekend of October, La Tribu de Abrante boarded a plane from Puerto Rico to Philadelphia to play a special live set, blending traditional bomba and plena with salsa, Latin jazz and lots of percussion. They played for hundreds of music fans — or, as frontman Hiram Abrante would prefer to call them: family. That's how Abrante thinks of his audience, and that point of view is at the core of La Tribu's music and the emotional connection they're able to inspire — especially at a time when things are so challenging in their home of Puerto Rico.

Pendejo is one of my favorite words. In the Spanish-speaking world, it's usually used in the context of pointing out someone's challenges to grasp the obvious or is used to just express supreme knucklehead tendencies. The somewhat vulgar word been largely claimed by Mexicans, some of whom can make high art out of applying it to any number of circumstances.

Natalia LaFourcade is a successful singer-songwriter whose voice and music live on the edge of pop, but maintain a distinct independence.

A few years ago, while Lafourcade was traveling Brazil, she felt a great nostalgia for her native Mexico and its folk music. When she finally returned home, she immediately called some friends for the kind of party that is ubiquitous in Latin America: lots of social drinking, lots of food and lots of guitars and singing. Classic folk songs were on the playlist and a good time was had by all.

At a time when we've seen consecutive natural disasters pummel places such as Texas, Puerto Rico and Mexico, it's sometimes difficult to see beyond the incredible pain and images of destruction.

The lines seem to be blurring between Latin Alternative and the pop mainstream, judging by the Latin Grammy nominations announced this morning in Los Angeles.

Reflecting that alternative/pop duality were former Calle 13 frontman Residente and Colombian pop/urban vocalist Maluma, who both earned 7 nominations.

If the Tiny Desk offers one lesson, it's that greatness doesn't diminish with less volume. The lesson doubly applies here.

During their performance, Bomba Estereo's Simon Mejia (bass and keyboards) observed that it was the quietist the band has ever played; they rose to the occasion with an intense performance that reflects their earliest days working smaller venues in Colombia.

As we have shown in so many previous episodes of Alt.Latino, the cultural interchange between the U.S., Latin America and the Caribbean has been going on practically since there were people in these parts of the world.

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