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.

California's San Joaquin Valley runs right along the middle of the state, from just south of Bakersfield up to Sacramento. It was ground zero for Cesar Chavez's groundbreaking campaign for farmworkers, and it was where I met Agustín Lira when I lived in Fresno.

This week, we take a long drive along the mountain roads, high planes, tropical coastlines and large urban centers of Colombia.

NPR News contributor Betto Arcos is in control of the car's CD/cassette/8-track player, and he's blasting a mix of contemporary and traditional sounds. Along the way, he fills us in on the backstories of the artists, as well as the history of the different folk genres.

This week, Alt.Latino takes a musical journey across the U.S. on the hunt for Latin Alternative music in places where you wouldn't expect to find it.

It's fair to expect these musicians would reside amidst Latino populations in large urban centers. But this week, we travel with D.C. music agent Luis Ayala to discover that Latin rock, funk and hip-hop bands are popping up in other cities and towns that are experiencing major growth in the Latino populations. As these communities mature, vibrant local Latin music scenes are popping up in their wake.

Carrie Rodriguez has been many things: a classically trained violinist turned American fiddler, a duet partner to veteran songwriter Chip Taylor, a successful and popular solo artist in her own right. On occasion, those roles have allowed her Mexican-American roots to bubble to the surface — perhaps in a line sung in Spanish, or through a reference to a classic mariachi song.

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.

Ralph J. Gleason is my hero.

It's impossible to put an exact date on it, but I think I started reading his column in Rolling Stone in the summer of 1973. I was 14 years old and already immersed in music. Reading him, I discovered you could write about music and get paid for it — and then I discovered his writing was just as immersive as the music we both loved.

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.

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.

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.

This week on Alt.Latino, we venture into a long-running conversation about remixing classic recordings. Along the way, we feature a new album released by Fania Records called Calentura, in which the label sent a handful of DJs and producers a treasure trove of original masters from the Golden Age of the brash and innovative Afro-Caribbean music known as salsa.

I can already hear some of you reacting to the concept:

"Malditos! How dare you tamper with perfection?"

"Would you repaint a Frida Kahlo masterwork?"

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.

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.

On Sunday night, the 88th annual Academy Awards will once again gather together the movie industry in a lavish ceremony to acknowledge the year's most celebrated performances and films. For some, though, the Oscars represent just another instance of the cool kids gussied up for prom night, trying to ignore The Others gathered by the punch bowl.

This week, Alt.Latino takes a deep dive into the animated Fox sitcom Bordertown with two of its writers, Lalo Alcaraz and Gustavo Arellano. Alcaraz is also the author of the Latino-themed syndicated comic strip La Cucaracha, while Arellano writes an advice column called Ask A Mexican for OC Weekly in Orange County, Calif.

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.


In my mind, there's a magical Mexican restaurant located somewhere in Austin, Texas; it's a place where people of all cultures, backgrounds, ages and languages rub elbows over mouthwatering Tex-Mex combination plates. Aging hippies, Chicano hipsters, old-school Texans in cowboy hats, abuelitas, blues musicians, Western fiddlers — they're all there.

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.

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