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.


2:09 pm
Thu July 30, 2015

An Explosion Of Music From Brasil Summerfest 2015

Fans attend New York's Brasil Summerfest, which highlights Brazilian music in a wide variety of styles and genres.
Eliseu Cavalcante

Originally published on Thu July 30, 2015 4:51 pm

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Songs We Love
8:03 am
Fri July 24, 2015

Songs We Love: Mariachi Los Camperos de Nati Cano, 'Yo'

Nati Cano's Mariachi Los Camperos released Tradicion, Arte y Pasion on Smithsonian Folkways in July.
Daniel Sheehy Courtesy of Smithsonian Folkways

When mariachi musician Nati Cano died last year the world lost a true cultural warrior. His dedication to the Mexican folk music was a lifelong passion that took place initially in bars and at public events, then eventually on the world's greatest stages.

His singular focus was highlighting the deep and complex beauty of mariachi, and he was recording yet another album for Smithsonian Folkways when he died unexpectedly in October.

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11:43 am
Thu July 23, 2015

No Sleep Until NYC, Chicago And Philly: A Latin Alternative Feast

Bardo Martinez of Chicano Batman at Ruido Fest 2015 in Chicago.
Catalina Maria Johnson

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First Listen
11:00 pm
Wed July 22, 2015

First Listen: Totó La Momposina, 'Tambolero'

Totó La Momposina's new album, Tambolero, comes out July 31.
Josh Pulman Courtesy of the artist

The Colombian folkloric vocalist Totó la Momposina is considered a living, cultural treasure in that country. Since the 1970s, she has been singing and dancing to the music of the Colombian Caribbean coast on stages around the world.

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Music News
5:21 am
Sun July 5, 2015

The Grateful Dead's Laid-Back, Yet Surprisingly Shrewd, Business Plan

Grateful Dead fans gather in the parking lot before a show this summer at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.
Justin Sullivan Getty Images

Originally published on Sun July 5, 2015 8:34 am

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.

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12:49 pm
Thu July 2, 2015

Nonstop Grooves With Guest DJ Novalima

Novalima blends Afro-Peruvian folk music with electronic beats.
Courtesy of the artist

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12:03 pm
Thu June 25, 2015

The Livin' Is Easy: A Summer Solstice Mixtape

DJ Tribilin Sound serves up bass, beeps and bloops from the Peruvian underground.
Courtesy of the artist

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Songs We Love
12:35 pm
Tue June 16, 2015

Songs We Love: Novalima, 'Quebranto'

Novalima's new album, Planetario, is out now.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue July 7, 2015 5:53 pm

My Alt.Latino co-host, Jasmine Garsd, accurately describes this track by the Peruvian band Novalima as a three-layer cake of time. Consider the ingredients: It's based on an iPhone recording of a 1950s-era vocalist; it's propelled by an Afro-Peruvian cajon, a percussion instrument that dates back to the slave trade in Peru; and it's peppered with keyboard blips and beeps from today's technology.

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Songs We Love
10:57 am
Mon June 15, 2015

Songs We Love: Yes, 'Heart Of The Sunrise' (Live)

In the fall of 1972, Yes' tour took the band from Canada to North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee and New York.
Roger Dean Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue July 7, 2015 5:54 pm

It's easy to look back on early-'70s jazz-rock hybrids with a snicker. For those of us who were there, that snicker might accompany a note of regret; some of us thought that stuff was amazing. But listening to a new collection of Yes' previously unreleased early-'70s live recordings — titled Progeny: Highlights From Seventy-Two — I'm not so embarrassed to have embraced these poster boys of prog-rock.

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First Listen
11:03 pm
Sun May 17, 2015

Review: Los Hijos De La Montaña, 'Los Hijos De La Montaña'

Los Hijos De La Montaña.
Jeff Elbel Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue June 23, 2015 10:34 pm

Although they share the same last name, it's hard to imagine a less likely pairing than Luz Elena Mendoza and Sergio Mendoza.

While both have roots in Mexico, Luz Elena makes her home in the Pacific Northwest and has fronted a band called Y La Bamba. That group sets Luz Elena's deep, evocative voice against backing vocals so rich, I once described Y La Bamba's other singing members as bearded choirboys. There were direct Mexican influences in the music, but not many.

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Field Recordings
12:54 pm
Wed May 13, 2015

Apanhador Só: Musical Magic With A Trunkload Of Toys


Originally published on Tue May 26, 2015 12:37 pm

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 26, 2015 12:36 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 Wed July 8, 2015 10:21 am

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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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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