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.

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Field Recordings
12:54 pm
Wed May 13, 2015

Apanhador Só: Musical Magic With A Trunkload Of Toys

NPR

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.

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Field Recordings
3:22 pm
Tue May 5, 2015

A Bluegrass Ditty By Way Of Uruguay

Morgan Walker NPR

Originally published on Tue May 5, 2015 3:35 pm

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.

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Tiny Desk Concerts
6:03 am
Fri May 1, 2015

Diego El Cigala: Tiny Desk Concert

Colin Marshall NPR

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.

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First Listen
11:13 pm
Sun April 26, 2015

Review: Rana Santacruz, 'Por Ahí'

Rana Santacruz's new album, Por Ahí, comes out May 5.
Erin Patrice O'Brien Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue May 5, 2015 4:02 pm

Rana Santacruz waited five years to release his second album.

In today's instantaneous digital age, that's a dangerous career move. Waiting that long risks a budding fan base moving on to next new thing. Musical trends change fast, risking diminished interest in a particular sound. A club owner or booking agent can delete old contact info with the push of a button.

In the case of Santacruz's new album Por Ahí, hanging back was exactly the right thing to do.

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Songs We Love
12:43 pm
Mon April 20, 2015

Chris Washburne And The SYOTOS Band, 'Stairway To Heaven'

Chris Washburne and his band superimposes Duke Ellington's "Heaven" over Led Zeppelin's "Stairway To Heaven."
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue April 21, 2015 1:37 pm

This crazy, clever cover medley spans an entire musical universe, as it superimposes one of Duke Ellington's sacred works (1968's "Heaven") over Led Zeppelin's 1971 rock classic "Stairway To Heaven." Trombonist Chris Washburne and his mighty See You On The Other Side miniature big band have released an album of inspired Latin jazz instrumental covers; titled Low Ridin', it touches on '70s-era rock songs by the likes of Neil Young, The Doors, Lou Reed and Jimi Hendrix.

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Tiny Desk Concerts
8:03 am
Fri April 17, 2015

Rosa Díaz: Tiny Desk Concert

Carlos Waters NPR

Originally published on Fri April 17, 2015 11:54 am

Rosa Díaz is nothing if not passionate: Her performance behind Bob Boilen's desk practically burst with the kind of passion that made it feel almost confessional. Her sophisticated lyrics reflect deeply felt emotions in this performance with cellist Daniel de Jesus.

This is the kind of performance best experienced for yourself rather than having me trying to explain it all. Believe me, you'll get it too.

Set List

  • "Beware Of Men Who Don't Remember Their Dreams"
  • "Lloronsito"
  • "Daddy Said"
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Alt.Latino
2:25 pm
Thu March 26, 2015

Surviving SXSW 2015, With An Assist

Buraka Som Sistema was among the many Latin artists who impressed at this year's SXSW.
Goncalo F. Santos Courtesy of the artist

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First Listen
11:03 pm
Sun March 1, 2015

Review: Omar Sosa, 'Ile'

Omar Sosa's new album, Ile, comes out March 10.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue March 17, 2015 10:40 am

Cuban-born pianist and composer Omar Sosa has carved out a place for himself in the musical landscape that's equal parts musical and spiritual. His playing and his songs are saturated with the beauty and power of West African music dedicated to Yoruba deities, and yet an unmistakable reverence for jazz pervades every note.

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A Blog Supreme
12:29 pm
Sun February 22, 2015

Clark Terry, Ebullient Jazz Trumpeter, Has Died

Clark Terry wasn't just a trumpeter with flawless technique; he was also, according to one peer, a "natural-born educator" who devoted much of his later career to passing on his immense musical knowledge.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Sun February 22, 2015 7:22 pm

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Music News
2:03 am
Wed January 7, 2015

How Santería Seeped Into Latin Music

Percussionist and bandleader John Santos performs with Afro Cuban batá drums in California's Bay Area.
Tom Ehrlich John Santos

Originally published on Wed January 7, 2015 12:35 pm

All this week, Morning Edition is talking about drums and drummers. The third installment in "Beat Week" explores the beats used in Afro-Cuban Santería ceremonies. Our guide is Felix Contreras, co-host of NPR's Alt.Latino podcast and an Afro-Cuban drummer himself.

Note: This piece is better heard than read. For examples of the music and a drumming demonstration, listen at the audio link.

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Music News
5:05 am
Tue December 23, 2014

Moreno's 'El Burrito Sabanero', Welcomed Update To A Holiday Song

Originally published on Tue December 23, 2014 7:28 am

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Holiday Music
1:04 pm
Mon December 15, 2014

Festivo Alt.Latino: Cantigas In Concert

Cantigas performs live in NPR's Studio 1.
Colin Marshall NPR

For this edition of our holiday special we turn to the healing and uplifting power of the human voice with the Washington, D.C.-based group, Cantigas. The group's 25 members assembled in NPR's Studio 1 in front of a live audience to present an eclectic mix of songs and rhythms from Mexico, Spain, Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina, Peru, Cuba and Puerto Rico–the home country of its artistic director, Diana Sáez.

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Tiny Desk Concerts
8:03 am
Sat November 15, 2014

Davíd Garza: Tiny Desk Concert

Maggie Starbard NPR

Davíd Garza was already a favorite son for folks in Austin when I discovered a collection of his past works, filled with stunning songwriting and a voice that seemed familiar yet new. Once I heard his music, I knew I'd always look forward to whatever he produced.

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Tiny Desk Concerts
8:03 am
Sat November 8, 2014

Making Movies: Tiny Desk Concert

Susan Hale Thomas NPR

When Los Lobos' Steve Berlin sent me an audio file of a band he was producing, I stopped what I was doing and listened closely. There was something about the energy coming from Enrique Chi's vocals as the rest of Making Movies enveloped him in sound.

The band has been making fans across the country one gig at a time, one song at a time — whether singing in English or Spanish, whether playing guitars or stringed instruments that come directly from Making Movies' ancestral Panama, whether playing drums or dancing a Mexican zapateado.

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Alt.Latino
4:08 pm
Tue November 4, 2014

In Music, Carlos Santana Seeks The Divine

Carlos Santana uses music to reflect on his career in this week's episode of Alt.Latino.
Frank Micelotta Getty Images

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Tiny Desk Concerts
8:03 am
Sat October 11, 2014

Raquel Sofia: Tiny Desk Concert

Colin Marshall NPR

Singer Raquel Sofia has spent most of her career 20 feet from stardom as a backup singer for Juanes and Shakira. But these days, she's got her own new album and tour, leading a small band of gifted musicians. Sofia's songs are about matters of the heart — and, as you'll hear in her performance here, it's hard to believe that feeling bad can sound this good. Her music doesn't wallow; instead, it makes me want to celebrate and experience the joy and pain along with her.

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Tiny Desk Concerts
1:54 pm
Mon September 29, 2014

Bio Ritmo: Tiny Desk Concert

Colin Marshall NPR

Latino migration in the U.S. has placed people of Afro-Caribbean heritage all over the country. Bio Ritmo's heritage leads directly back to that migration — and to the sound of Fania Records, which fueled Latin dance music's transition from the big-band mambos of the 1950s to the cutting-edge sounds of 1970s New York.

Bio Ritmo moves salsa music even further through stellar musicianship: crisp horn charts; a powerful rhythm section of timbales, congas and bongos; and a piano/bass combo that reminds me of the best groove masters in salsa and Latin jazz.

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Alt.Latino
12:03 pm
Thu August 21, 2014

Puerto Rican Princesses And Mexican Centaurs

Princess Nokia.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Thu August 21, 2014 4:46 pm

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