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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First Listen
11:03 pm
Sun May 11, 2014

First Listen: Pasatono Orquesta, 'Maroma'

Pasatono Orquesta's new album, Maroma, comes out on May 20.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue May 20, 2014 12:55 pm

They had me at "vintage Mexican circus music." Maroma, the new album by the roots band Pasotono Orquesta, is dedicated to music of the one-man circuses — known as maroma — that traveled in rural Mexico during the late 19th century. The big-tent circuses, or carpas, were pared down to a single clown who had to tell jokes, juggle, perform light acrobatics and even recite poetry.

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All Songs Considered
3:20 pm
Tue May 6, 2014

The Grateful Dead's Ultimate 'Dark Star' To Be Reissued

John Oswald's Grayfolded, an epic version of the Grateful Dead's song "Dark Star," is getting a reissue on three LPs.
Courtesy of the artist

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A Blog Supreme
3:08 pm
Thu May 1, 2014

Remembering Armando Peraza, An Afro-Cuban Percussion Giant

It's hard to imagine a musical career that included musicians as varied as Charlie Parker, Peggy Lee, George Shearing and Carlos Santana. But such was hand percussionist Armando Peraza's resumé after almost 70 years making music.

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First Listen
11:03 pm
Sun April 27, 2014

First Listen: Arturo O'Farrill & The Afro Latin Orchestra, 'The Offense Of The Drum'

Arturo O'Farrill and The Afro Latin Orchestra's new album, The Offense of the Drum, comes out May 6.
Rebecca Meek Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Mon April 28, 2014 4:14 pm

The Offense of the Drum is one of those moments when the course of music with a long tradition is altered slightly — when music moves forward in a subtle and graceful way that's likely to have a lasting impact.

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First Listen
11:03 pm
Sun April 27, 2014

First Listen: Pacifika, 'Amor Planeta'

Pacifika's new album, Amor Planeta, comes out May 6.
JP Carousel Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Mon June 2, 2014 3:20 pm

The music of Pacifika draws you in almost immediately: The Vancouver trio's musicianship is superb, buoyed by a voice that stopped me in my tracks the first time I heard it. Pacifika's sound has been labeled as world fusion, but that label is more of a restriction than a description. The group's acoustic base and subtle electronic flourishes provided a great way to start its musical journey, but Amor Planeta raises the stakes with an electric-guitar bite that adds a crucial dimension.

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Alt.Latino
12:03 pm
Sat April 26, 2014

'Cesar Chavez': Discussing The Movie And The Man

Cesar Chavez, co-founder of the United Farm Workers, speaks at a rally in 1977.
Cathy Murphy Getty Images

Originally published on Thu May 1, 2014 1:01 pm

There is no music in this week's episode of Alt.Latino. Instead, we do one of our occasional "deep dives" into a subject to pursue insights and perspectives that help us think about more than music. This time around, the subject is Cesar Chavez, the recent biopic about the civil-rights activist and labor leader and the movement to unionize farm workers.

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The Record
9:02 pm
Wed February 26, 2014

Paco De Lucia, Modern Superstar Of Flamenco, Dies

Paco de Lucia in 1982.
Paco Junquera Getty Images

Originally published on Thu February 27, 2014 12:08 pm

Paco de Lucia, considered by his fans and critics to be the world's greatest flamenco guitarist, died Wednesday in Mexico of a heart attack. The 66-year-old musician was a modern superstar in a Roma, or Gypsy, tradition that is hundreds of years old.

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Code Switch
7:24 pm
Fri February 7, 2014

Ringing In Black History Month With Latin Music

Peru's Novalima infuses the Afro-Peruvian landó of Susana Baca's music with electronica.
Courtesy of Musuk Nolte

Originally published on Fri February 7, 2014 8:40 pm

Editor's note: It is February and that can mean only one thing. It is time for Black, Latino And Proud: Black History Month With Alt.Latino hosted by our friends and colleagues Felix Contreras and Jasmine Garsd. We pass the mic to Felix to hear what they will be featuring on NPR's Latin Alternative music podcast.

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First Listen
11:02 pm
Sun January 26, 2014

First Listen: Gina Chavez, 'Up.Rooted'

Gina Chavez's new album, Up.Rooted, comes out Feb. 15.
Judson Baker Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue February 11, 2014 11:14 am

Gina Chavez's voice stops you in your tracks the first time you hear it. At least that's how it worked for me when I came upon her performance during South by Southwest a few years ago. She was playing a semi-acoustic set on a sunlit patio above a busy sports bar — a setting not exactly conducive to her intimate songwriting.

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Tiny Desk Concerts
2:19 pm
Mon December 16, 2013

La Santa Cecilia: Tiny Desk Concert

La Santa Cecilia performs a Tiny Desk Concert in November 2013.
Meredith Rizzo Meredith Rizzo/NPR

Originally published on Mon December 23, 2013 12:22 pm

La Santa Cecilia spreads joy every time its members plug in to do a show. They do it one dance step at a time, with cumbias, corridos, elegant mambos and plain old rock 'n' roll.

I first saw La Santa Cecilia perform in an Austin, Texas, parking lot about five years ago. As all great bands do, it showcased an It Factor that has only intensified as the L.A.-based, Mexican-American group works tirelessly to perfect its musical vision.

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Tiny Desk Concerts
10:42 am
Sat September 14, 2013

Arturo O'Farrill: Tiny Desk Concert

The Arturo O'Farrill Octect performs a Tiny Desk Concert in June 2013.
Hayley Bartels Hayley Bartels/NPR

Originally published on Mon December 23, 2013 6:10 pm

Latin jazz works best when the musicians involved are as fluent in Afro-Cuban rhythms as they are in the deep grooves and advanced harmonics of bebop. Arturo O'Farrill has that pedigree in his DNA: His father, Chico O'Farrill, was part of a groundbreaking group of musicians who created the mash-up of Afro-Cuban music and jazz back in late-'40s New York.

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Tiny Desk Concerts
2:03 pm
Mon August 26, 2013

Buika: Tiny Desk Concert

The Buika performs a Tiny Desk Concert in June 2013.
Hayley Bartels Hayley Bartels/NPR

Originally published on Mon December 23, 2013 6:14 pm

Concha Buika's voice doesn't come from inside her petite body: It comes from Africa, and from the past. There are obvious traces of flamenco, itself a historical mash-up of the Moors and various transitory cultures in southern Spain and north Africa.

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The Record
7:04 am
Wed August 21, 2013

Marian McPartland, 'Piano Jazz' Host, Has Died

Marian McPartland.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Wed August 21, 2013 4:23 pm

Marian McPartland, who gave the world an intimate, insider's perspective on one of the most elusive topics in music — jazz improvisation — died of natural causes Tuesday night at her home in Long Island, N.Y. She was 95.

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Summer Books 2013
8:03 am
Thu August 8, 2013

Of Ingenuity And Insane Clown Posse: 5 Books On Music For What's Left Of Summer

cover for Dinner With Lenny
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Fri August 9, 2013 7:58 am

It's already August 8, which means you've got maybe three or four weeks left to complain about preseason football, inadequately shield yourself from the scorching heat of the sun, and communicate with your kids about something other than why they haven't done their homework. So why not get cracking on a book?

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A Blog Supreme
5:30 pm
Mon July 29, 2013

'A Walking Encyclopedia Of Rhythms': Remembering Steve Berrios

Steve Berrios performs with the Fort Apache Band in New York City earlier in 2013.
Andrea Zapata-Girau Courtesy of Jerry Gonzalez

Originally published on Wed July 31, 2013 4:20 pm

It is not easy to play both jazz drum set and Afro-Caribbean percussion. Lots of drummers do it, but few have mastered it in a way that makes their sound in either style unmistakable from the first beat.

The music community lost one of those true innovators Wednesday with the death of percussionist Steve Berrios in New York at age 68. Berrios could move seamlessly from jazz to Afro-Cuban rhythms in a way that perfectly reflected his bicultural roots.

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Alt.Latino
12:34 pm
Thu May 16, 2013

A Kind Of Magic: New Latin Music, Sprinkled With Discovery Dust

Puerto Rican singer Raquel Sofia.
Courtesy of The Black Key Group

Originally published on Mon June 17, 2013 11:00 am

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Tiny Desk Concerts
5:21 pm
Mon April 22, 2013

Omar Sosa & Paolo Fresu: Tiny Desk Concert

Lizzie Chen NPR

Originally published on Mon December 23, 2013 6:35 pm

You don't really listen to an Omar Sosa concert so much as experience it. The Cuban-born pianist's overall demeanor exudes a sense of calm and deep reflection, while a spiritual connection to music and his ancestors comes through in his piano playing.

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A Blog Supreme
12:55 pm
Sat April 20, 2013

Tito Puente: 90 Years Of Getting People To Dance

Tito Puente on vibraphone at the Palladium.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Sat April 20, 2013 7:38 pm

The percussionist and bandleader Tito Puente would have celebrated his 90th birthday this weekend on April 20. And the recently released box set Quatro: The Definitive Collection is a great place to start celebrating the once and forever King of Latin Music. It captures the driving sound of big band mambo and cha-cha-cha that launched people onto dance floors for decades.

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Alt.Latino
3:37 pm
Thu April 18, 2013

Guest DJ With California Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera

California poet laureate Juan Felipe Herrera.
courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Mon June 17, 2013 11:01 am

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SXSW: Live From Austin
2:04 pm
Mon April 1, 2013

Bajofondo, Live In Concert: SXSW 2013

NPR

Originally published on Wed July 2, 2014 9:18 am

With eight accomplished musicians from Argentina and Uruguay, and a sound rooted in tango traditions, Bajofondo lays out a visual and aural feast. Led by Oscar and Grammy winner Gustavo Santaolalla, the group mashes up traditional candombe sounds and other forms with electronica to produce a mix that's hypnotic and danceable.

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