Felix Contreras

Felix Contreras is host of Alt.Latino, NPR's 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.

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Let's remember this morning how Havana sounded back in the 1950s and 1960s.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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It's been quite the week. Many people have taken to social media to express not only their opinions of recent political news but also a sense of emotional exhaustion. Alt.Latino's Felix Contreras joins me now. Felix, welcome. And are you feeling exhausted?

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Joe Jackson, patriarch of the legendary Jackson family, which included Michael and Janet Jackson, has died, the estate of Michael has confirmed in a statement. No cause of death was given, though he had reportedly been diagnosed with cancer.

Officially, Joe Jackson was a band manager, taking five of his sons from a locally celebrated pop vocal group in Gary, Ind., in the mid-1960s to international acclaim, acting as the launchpad to superstardom for his son Michael. Their paths, however, would be revealed through the decades as ones paved in checkers.

Fifty years ago, Johnny Cash performed at Folsom State Prison in Folsom, Calif. The January 1968 concert and live album it produced, At Folsom Prison, helped revitalize Cash's career, inspiring him to testify for prison reform and cementing his reputation as a voice for the downtrodden.

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(SOUNDBITE OF MANUEL GARCIA-OROZCO AND MAYTE MONTERO SONG, "OYE MI MAMA (AFROBEAT) [FEAT. AIFF])

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Speaking Spanish).

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Friday marks the official launch of the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, where an array of Brazilian music is expected in the opening ceremonies. While all eyes are on Brazil for the next two weeks, we here at Alt.Latino get to share our own love affair with the country's vast musical heritage. My short conversation with David Greene on NPR's Morning Edition, at the audio link above, is just the tip of the iceberg — of both the music and our coverage.

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.

Sometimes it's necessary to get back to basics. In the case of Los Hacheros, that means returning to the deep groove of Afro-Caribbean music that provides the source material for modern salsa and all of its permutations.

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Well, it's summertime, Fourth of July weekend. Let's take a music break. I asked my buddy Felix Contreras, host of NPR Music's Alt.Latino podcast to recommend some tunes. Felix, what'd you bring me?

Together, saxophonist Charles Lloyd and pianist Jason Moran make jazz that draws from the past while looking to the future. Lloyd's body of work stretches back to the mid-1960s, and has always shown a disregard for boundaries and cliches. He seems determined to work through the later part of his career with artistically and spiritually motivated playing that simply astounds.

Those of us "of a certain age" have always been told to be true to ourselves, with the understanding that maturity will show us a better sense of our true selves. The hope is that we can move forward and look backward with both confidence and (hopefully) not a lot of regret.

But musicians of a certain age are often better off if they resist the tried-and-true and look for something new to stretch their sense of self. They rely on a body of work to inspire yet more growth; that way, their sound changes while still feeling familiar.

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.

Monsieur Periné hails from Colombia, a country known for its Afro-Colombian cumbia, as well as New York-style salsa. Instead, however, the band has embraced 1920s-era, guitar-driven jazz from the U.S. The unlikely inspiration has resulted in a large and international following, as well as a Latin Grammy not too long ago: Monsieur Periné was named 2015's Best New Artist.

Words don't do this band justice. Play the video and discover Monsieur Periné's magic for yourself.

Just after the Second World War, at a time when segregation remained firmly ensconced in the U.S., African-American writer Richard Durham was taking on racism, inequality and social justice — and he was doing it all on the radio.

From 1948 through 1950, Durham and a small troupe of black and white actors produced elaborate radio dramas that helped undermine the stereotypes of the day. Every Sunday morning at 10, on Chicago's WMAQ, listeners of Destination Freedom would get to hear about figures like Louis Armstrong, Harriet Tubman, Ida B. Wells and Jackie Robinson.

Much has happened for Gina Chavez since I first saw her at an unofficial SXSW showcase about five years ago: two albums, fan and industry recognition, this year's Austin Music Award for Austin Musician Of The Year. Chavez's music has developed over the years, just as it should.

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.

One of the most musical countries on the planet, Brazil is awash in folk-music traditions, as well as a rich history in jazz and bossa nova. It seems as if Brazilian musicians can make beautiful sounds with everything and anything they touch.

The band Apanhador Só demonstrates that point, and then some: In this video, shot during SXSW in Austin this past spring, its members coax rhythms and beats from a trunkload of found items, including a children's bicycle and other playthings. The resulting performance of "Prédio" is the stuff of hip-swaying joy.

Uruguay belongs high up any list of locations for musical discovery. Nestled between Argentina and Brazil way down on the southern tip of the Americas, it spends way too much time in the shadows of its better-known neighbors.

But a closer listen reveals something for just about everyone: rockeros, sure, but also fans of hip-hop, folk-influenced downtempo music and singer-songwriters with distinct voices and stories to tell.

Every now and then, if we are extremely lucky, we are witness to a musical game changer. That is the rare musician who single-handedly alters the direction of a genre though the power of musical vision and artistry.

Diego El Cigala is one of those game changers.

While he comes from the world of flamenco, he has deftly expanded his expressive range by applying his unmistakable voice to boleros, Spanish copla, tangos, jazz and various combinations of all of the above.