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'Alt.Latino' Summer Suggestions


Memorial Day signals the start of summer - slower days, vacations and a more laid-back attitude toward life. But for our friends at NPR Music's Alt.Latino podcast, summer heats up literally and figuratively. Host Felix Contreras is here to explain.

Hey, Felix.


DAVIS: So how are you going to keep busy this summer?

CONTRERAS: OK. So looking ahead, you know, there are three major Latin music festivals that we cover every year - one in Chicago, one in New York and one in Philadelphia. That all happens, like, between June and July. Their bands from Latin America come in - and all over the U.S. There's tons of new music. And it's a great time for music discovery, so that always keeps me busy. And this year, from the middle of May to mid-June, there are a whole bunch of great new records from familiar names and some names that may be new.

DAVIS: OK. So I love a summer jam. So I'm ready. What's first on your list?

CONTRERAS: OK. New music from Santana.


CONCHA BUIKA: (Singing in Spanish).

CONTRERAS: That's from an upcoming album called "Africa Speaks." And it's sort of an artistic reset. You know, he's got his usual band, but he worked with super producer Rick Rubin. And he featured a vocalist by the name of Concha Buika. She's from Spain, so the album is saturated with all kinds of different African sounds, like Afrobeat, West African drumming. But Buika adds a little bit of flamenco influence. And it's an interesting artistic choice for Carlos Santana. And I think it works brilliantly. It's his best record in a very long time.


CONTRERAS: I've been listening to him since, you know, the first album came out in '69. And this is something that just sort of pops and vibrates just all kinds of life and dynamism for the first time in a long time. In that long time - he's being recognized this year. He's got the 50th anniversary of Woodstock. He's got the 50th anniversary of his first album and the 20th anniversary of "Supernatural" - just all sort of happened in the same year.

DAVIS: Do you think this is going to be a hit album?

CONTRERAS: I don't know if it's going be a hit album, but it'll certainly be a nice, high watermark for his musical career.

DAVIS: It doesn't seem fair to start with Santana.

CONTRERAS: (Laughter).

DAVIS: That's a tough act to follow.

CONTRERAS: (Laughter) Right? Right?

DAVIS: So how do you follow Santana? What do you have next?

CONTRERAS: OK. Check this out. This is a new album. We do that with something completely different and just as compelling. It's a new album by the Mexican vocalist Lila Downs.


LILA DOWNS: (Singing in Spanish).

DAVIS: This sounds very traditional to me.

CONTRERAS: She has been - that's her whole thing is that she's been doing a lot of traditional Mexican music and usually with just a sprinkling of contemporary sounds. But this time around, she worked with a Mexican producer by the name of Camilo Lara. And he's done a lot of, like, dance club stuff, a lot of reimagining the traditions of Mexican music. He's got a really nice golden touch. And if you listen on headphones, you hear a lot of little things happening with this album that's strictly Camilo Lara's influence. We're listening to Lila Downs cover a song by Manu Chao. It's called "Clandestino." It's sort of his signature song. And it's something that he created early 2000s, and it's just become an anthem. And Lila really brings it home with her voice, with this arrangement. It's something not to miss. Check it out.


DOWNS: (Singing in Spanish).

DAVIS: This is having a beer at sunset in the summertime.

CONTRERAS: (Laughter) Yeah. Right? Yeah.

DAVIS: This is happy hour. I'm drinking a beer. It's beautiful out, and I'm listening to this music.

CONTRERAS: It's perfect for that. And while it sounds like they couldn't be any different, really what they have in common are these two veteran artists who are looking at new ways to express themselves. Imagine; 50 years - how are you going to keep it fresh? How are you going to keep it new? Lila Downs has been doing it for a couple of decades as well. It's always interesting and fascinating to me to listen and watch these musicians like, OK. What are we going to pull out of the hat next?

DAVIS: How do you keep it new and now?

CONTRERAS: There you go.

DAVIS: So those are some veteran singers. What about the up-and-comers? Who's new in the Latin music sound?

CONTRERAS: Check this track out. Listen to this.


ILE: (Singing in Spanish).

DAVIS: It's kind of sultry.

CONTRERAS: Yes, very.


ILE: (Singing in Spanish).

DAVIS: Who is that?

CONTRERAS: OK. This is Puerto Rican vocalist iLe. OK, now, her background briefly. She is the little sister of Rene Joglar and Eduardo Cabra, the brothers who make up Calle 13, a super, super popular and successful Puerto Rican rap duo. Ile was called PG-13.

DAVIS: (Laughter).

CONTRERAS: OK, in their rap show, she's jumping up and down. She's singing, you know? And they're doing all this heavy-duty hip-hop. She has an amazing singing voice. And this year, she's released this record. It's very percussion-heavy. But it explores her voice more, as you heard - lot of influences, beautiful record.

DAVIS: OK. I think we have time for one more.

CONTRERAS: This is a newer artist. This is Flor De Toloache - the all-female mariachi group from New York that has been crushing it with their mash-up of mariachi tradition and things like R&B and other forms of Latin music.


FLOR DE TOLOACHE: (Singing in Spanish).

CONTRERAS: They have been super busy lately, lending their voices to a variety of collaborations. Along the way, lead vocalist Mireya Ramos recently discovered that she's cousins with R&B singer Miguel. They collaborated. And this track is on both Miguel's recent all-Spanish EP and Flor De Toloache's album. This record is a beautiful mash-up of their R&B roots, their Mexican music roots and mariachi underneath. It's just a fantastic track full of lovely, lush sounds. Check it out.


MIGUEL: (Singing in Spanish).

DAVIS: It does seem thematically that there's a lot of women in this mix.

CONTRERAS: I guess so. I hadn't noticed.

DAVIS: (Laughter).

CONTRERAS: But there you go. Yeah. There's a ton of great music out right now, man. And what it does - it just shows the variety, as we saw today - the variety of Latin music expressions; different styles, different genres, different countries, different backgrounds. It's a lot of fun. I have a good job right now.

DAVIS: Yeah.

CONTRERAS: It's a lot of fun.

DAVIS: Felix Contreras is the host of NPR Music's Alt.Latino podcast.

Thank you so much.

CONTRERAS: Thank you.


MIGUEL: (Singing in Spanish). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Felix Contreras is co-creator and host of Alt.Latino, NPR's pioneering radio show and podcast celebrating Latin music and culture since 2010.