Knock Your Wool Socks Off With New Latin Music

May 4, 2014
Originally published on May 4, 2014 12:55 pm

Depending on where you live, spring is at your doorstep. So we thought it was a good time to invite the hosts of Alt.Latino, NPR's weekly Latin music and culture show, to share some fresh new music with us. We've got a Brazilian hip-hop star, a rising Chilean folk artist, a moody Mexican singer and more.

As always, be sure to hop into the comments to let us know what music you've been using to help usher in the warmer weather.

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Winter is over, thank goodness, and it's time now for spring cleaning. So we decided to check in with our friends at NPR Music's Alt.Latino to find out what they've been collecting and clearing out in their spring cleaning ritual. Probably some hidden treasures, I imagine. Felix Contreras, Jasmine Garsd join us, as they often do, to talk through their musical adventures. Hey, guys.

FELIX CONTRERAS: Good morning.


MARTIN: So Felix, what's going on with you musically? You've been traveling.

CONTRERAS: We've been traveling a lot. And we've been doing a lot of interviews on the show, so there hasn't been a lot of time to stack up a lot of new music. So our mailbox, our e-mail boxes with digital files have been overflowing. And that's what we brought in. We brought in some music to spread the love.

MARTIN: I love it. What you got?

GARSD: Rachel, I want to start you off with this discovery. I can't take credit for it. Its actually Felix's discovery.

MARTIN: That's generous of you, though, to acknowledge that.


GARSD: Her name is Karol Conka, and that means Karol with a K. And she is part of this just awesome Brazilian hip-hop scene which I'm a huge fan of. She's kind of like an up-and-coming Brazilian rap princess. You know, a lot of Latin hip-hop gets criticized for being like, just very derivative. Brazilian hip-hop is so Brazilian. Just check it out, OK.


MARTIN: That's cool. I like it.

GARSD: What I love is that the vocal style is so Brazilian. And what I'm talking about is kind of that group vocal, that crowd chanting. And it's something you don't really think about in hip-hop in general. This is very uniquely Brazilian.

CONTRERAS: I mean, can't you just hear that bass sound rumbling in the back seat of a small, little car coming down the street. You can hear that just loud, loud boom happening. But underneath, that's some traditional vocals coming from Brazil.

MARTIN: Really?

CONTRERAS: Yeah. Oh, yeah.

MARTIN: Love it. OK, Felix. And I understand you have two cover songs you're bringing in, which is a bold move, my friend.


MARTIN: Cover songs.

CONTRERAS: Well, you know, they're two covers of very iconic songs, and it took a lot of gut, no on my part to bring them in, but on the people...

GARSD: You have some nerve.

MARTIN: On the musicians to cover them.

CONTRERAS: ...Musicians who covered them, correct. First up is Ani Cordero. She has an album called "Recordar." And it's a collection of protest songs from Latin America by some of the most well-known singers and writers like Victor Jara, Chavela Vargas, Violeta Parra. The song we're going to hear from that album is called "Panis et Circenses" and it was originally performed by Os Mutantes in 1968. It was written by Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil.

These guys and a lot of musicians from that era, they challenged the brutal military dictatorship and were often either jailed or banished from the country. Os Mutantes's music was - what's the word - it's like it's wrapped in psychedelia. Remember, it's 1968. Anything goes.


CONTRERAS: We're going to hear the original version and then we're going to hear Annie's version.

MARTIN: OK, let's listen.


MARTIN: Yeah, sounds of the era.

CONTRERAS: Yeah, there it is. And now, Ani's version is more stripped down so you get to the essence of what the song is about, the beautiful melody and the message, which is basically stand up and take notice of what's going on in your country and have something to say about it.


MARTIN: Lovely melody, by the way.

CONTRERAS: The whole album is like that, where she just puts her own stamp on these songs that are very familiar throughout Latin America for the messages that they carried back when they were recorded.

MARTIN: OK, so that was the first cover. Next cover song, Felix.

CONTRERAS: OK, listeners of a certain age, of which I am, may recognize this 1974 Bob Marley cut from the "Natty Dread" album. This track is called "Rebel Music."



MARTIN: Who dare redo this? Who dare take this on?

GARSD: OK, but can I just say, Felix, you don't have to be of a certain age to listen to Bob Marley.

MARTIN: (Laughter) That's true.

CONTRERAS: Well, you know, of a certain age to remember when it first came out.

GARSD: I mean, you don't own Bob Marley. (Laughter) OK?

CONTRERAS: OK, all right. Who dares cover it is a group called Rebel Tumbao. It's a crowd-funded album. It's a self-titled album. And this is their take on that song.


MARTIN: You couldn't help yourself. You're a percussionist at heart. You we were banging on the desk as that was playing 'cause that is a new element in this version is the percussive element.

CONTRERAS: They, you know, what Rebel Tumbao does is they've taken a series of Bob Marley songs and a couple of John Coltrane songs and put it in the Afro-Cuban style. They've put in Jamaican style. And what they're trying to do is connect the dots.

And so on that particular cut, the way it starts, it starts with the, you know, a very fast-paced mambo, and then when they do the vocals, it sort of suspends it up in the air. And then they come down like in a half-paced, you know, son style that has a different feel to it. I just love that intro of that song. It's just brilliant. The whole album is very, very clever and well thought out.

GARSD: Felix, you know what's also really cool, you wouldn't associate reggae with salsa, right. It's such a different vibe, such a different aesthetic.

MARTIN: Really?

GARSD: But beat-wise, there's like a common vein, and I just love that Rebel Tumbao is exploring the common vein between two genres that you don't typically think of as related.

MARTIN: All right, though, Jasmine. Those were Felix's contributions, which were pretty good for cover songs. How are you going to beat that?

GARSD: They were all right.


GARSD: I'm totally going to rain on everyone's parade. I'm so sorry. I feel like we're just doing salsa stuff. And I'm going to bring something that reminds me a lot of Depeche Mode and '80s goth. Is that OK?

MARTIN: Yeah. Are you kidding? You're speaking my language, child of the Depeche Mode eighties.

GARSD: So I brought a Mexican artist named Bonsae (ph). And he has this ballad. I'm not really into ballads, in general. Like, they're too slow for me and too sentimental. I have a heart of pure stone.


GARSD: Felix is the ballad guy. But I really love this ballad. It has, like, a very dark, slow piano strumming and then it kicks in with this super cool base. And it is a very gray, almost melancholy, verging on darkness ballad about a man's troubled relationship with his father. And I just, I think it's so emotion-filled and very creative. So check it out.


MARTIN: So I don't think it was that depressing. I mean, maybe if I knew what they were saying. But I was digging it. I liked that.

CONTRERAS: Musically, despite what you say, Jasmine, I'm a big fan of baladas and ballads in the proper place. And I think today is a proper place.

GARSD: No, I know you are.

CONTRERAS: Sunday morning, OK. The way they've brought in the rhythm and all this synthesizers and all this electronic stuff after the piano, I was taken by that and then drawn into the lyrics after that. I just, I'm a big fan of this track, too.

MARTIN: Yeah, well, you guys have done it again. I have learned a lot, as always. Thanks, you guys. Felix Contreras and Jasmine Garsd. They are the hosts of NPR Music's Alt.Latino. They join us once a month to share new music from the world of Latin alternative. Thanks, you guys.

CONTRERAS: Thank you.

GARSD: This is always so much fun. Thank you.

MARTIN: And this is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.