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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.

The 59th Annual Grammy nominees were announced Tuesday morning, and while familiar names appeared among the five Latin music categories, there were also some nice surprises. The Best Latin Pop Album roster includes polished pop performers like Jesse & Joy and Laura Pausini, but the Recording Academy (industry folks who pick the nominees) saw fit to include indie artist Gaby Moreno for the top Latin category. Her album Ilusión is hardly the kind of glossy pop record usually considered for this...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aDN_TjH9XiI http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sdeOmsivceU http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KFuJ_CcrNhA http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K5WgoiYptnQ Latin Grammy awards are awarded in over 48 categories. The one that get the most recognition are, of course, the popular music categories. But I always find myself scanning way down the list to find new and fascinating sounds that I would never be exposed to otherwise. This week, Rachel Martin and I explore some of the...

This week, Alt.Latino takes a literary turn as we explore the world of Latino noir. Good guys, bad guys and cops who are both; murder, intrigue and gallows humor; highly stylized writing — it's all there, as with any noir fiction. But these books and stories are written by Latinx authors. Our guide through this wonderful world of crime fiction is writer Carmen Amato. She's the author of a thrilling series featuring a detective named Emilia Cruz, the first female detective on the Acapulco...

Rudy Van Gelder, an audio recording engineer who captured the sounds of many of jazz's landmark albums, died Thursday morning in his sleep. He was at his home studio in New Jersey, according to Maureen Sickler, his assistant engineer. He was 91. Van Gelder's work is heard on hundreds of albums, on record labels like Blue Note, Prestige, Savoy and Impulse, featuring the likes of Miles Davis and John Coltrane, Art Blakey and Thelonious Monk, Duke Ellington and Count Basie, Sonny Rollins and...

When Jerry Garcia died unexpectedly in August 1995, his Grateful Dead bandmate Bob Weir went right back out on the road to deal with the loss of his friend. They met when Weir was 17 and Garcia was an older-and-wiser 22. For three decades, they'd perfected a rhythm-and-lead-guitar tandem that provided the essence of the Grateful Dead sound. In fact, the personal and musical chemistry between them was so strong, it always made me think of what trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie once said of saxophonist...

Friday marks the official launch of the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, where an array of Brazilian music is expected in the opening ceremonies. While all eyes are on Brazil for the next two weeks, we here at Alt.Latino get to share our own love affair with the country's vast musical heritage. My short conversation with David Greene on NPR's Morning Edition , at the audio link above, is just the tip of the iceberg — of both the music and our coverage. Longtime listeners have heard new...

Alt.Latino's Puerto Rican Deep Cuts

Jul 2, 2016

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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. This spring, Yale University press is publishing two collections of writings by Gleason (who often signed his columns as RJG); two...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mTbFNsBy73I This story was adapted from a longer interview with Carlos Santana and Michael Shrieve. Hear the full conversation on NPR's Alt.Latino podcast . When Carlos Santana recently reunited members of his original band for a new album and short tour, it was more than a trip down memory lane. The band's members say it was a rekindling of a spiritual connection among a group of musicians who crafted a sound that proved to be not only hugely popular, but was...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=loT_pYzi3Vw http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KDDyyDjWM_0 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q_Dqo--Ly3g Merle Haggard was known by his fans as "Hag." With songs that reflected the working-class values and experiences of his own early life, Haggard found an audience in folks that saw the same. The country musician died Wednesday morning in California. It was his 79th birthday. Haggard's music was drawn from a life that started in 1937 in a converted train boxcar, the...

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/. Transcript DAVID GREENE, HOST: The actress, singer, dancer Rita Moreno became a household name after her Oscar-winning turn as Anita in the 1961 movie "West Side Story." Five decades later, she is as busy as ever. She's a voice in a new animated TV series. Her new album is out. It's called "Una Vez Mas." And she's being honored by The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., for her life in show business. NPR's Felix Contreras spoke with...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=61GULLd8Cbw http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9qBHLBQ-g0g http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nAzjmDZD4aY http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3DXoGiTDavc Few of us get to witness a true historical moment — the kind that can change the world. On August 14, the moment the U.S. flag was raised over a newly opened U.S. Embassy in Cuba, Arturo O'Farrill witnessed one of those moments. The Cuban-American musician was one of a handful of invited guests who watched the dramatic flag...

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. If there's one thing the Grateful Dead has proven it knows how to do well, it's improvise. The song "Dark Star" alone launched hundreds of unique live jams, and that freeform...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WYzjw5QKrxI Jazz trumpeter Clark Terry has died. The musician's ebullient personality reached a nationwide audience as a member of NBC's Tonight Show band, and the sound of his expressive trumpet inspired younger musicians for nearly eight decades. The 94-year-old musician died Saturday . Clark Terry said he heard the sound of jazz everywhere as a kid in St. Louis in the 1930s: on the radio, in parades and wafting in from river boats floating along the...

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. If you wanted to put it in extremely simple terms, you could call Santería a mashup of mythology from west...

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Singer Jimmy Scott died of natural causes Thursday morning at his home in Las Vegas at age 88, according to his booking agent, Jean-Pierre Leduc. Scott suffered from Kallmann's syndrome, a lifelong affliction that prevented his body from maturing through puberty. The condition slowed his growth, leaving his stature at 4 feet 11 inches until his late 30s. It also affected his vocal cords, giving him a high voice that was often misidentified as a woman's. Scott was labeled Little Jimmy Scott by...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oMGUQTK8tXw The Grateful Dead 's song "Dark Star" was something of a holy grail for Deadheads attending either their first or 200th show. I once had an iPod playlist that had over seven hours of the legendary jam. So you can imagine my joy when someone turned me on to John Oswald's 1994/5 two part release Grayfolded , in which he which layered over one hundred live performances of the song from 1969-1993 (it was commissioned by bassist Phil Lesh, who gave him...

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. A boyhood friend of Mongo Santamaria, Peraza was part of the first wave of Cuban drummers to arrive in the U.S. in the late 1940s, bringing authentic Afro-Cuban rhythms to pop music and jazz. His last full-time gig was with Carlos Santana, with whom he toured and...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2oyhlad64-s 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. To the world's flamenco fans, de Lucia's story is well-known. He was born Francisco Sanchez Gomez in 1947 and was exposed to the flamenco culture in his home of Andalusia, the cradle of Roma tradition in...

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. The octet you see in this video is a stripped-down version of the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra, which is at least twice as large — don't think I...

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. For more than 40 years, she hosted Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz , an NPR program pairing conversation and duet performances that reached an audience of millions, connecting with jazz fans and the curious alike. She interviewed practically every major jazz musician of the...

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. Berrios was a true Nuevoriqueño, born in...

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. You can hear Sosa draw on more than 100 years of Cuban piano in the recognizable rhythms of his country's music. But in Sosa's hands, it's not all fiery and bombastic; he's most effective when he uses Afro-Cuban tradition as a guide to his...

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. When he died in 2000 at age 73, the New York City native had more than 100 recordings to his name. The new box set...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sE73giFnLBs http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6FOUqQt3Kg0 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sd5nQW8M3nU http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fQ7uXX9K7Sk http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I_ApaYLUmTs http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CXZRaTrOmgg http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i8YzhTggIow http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IUHlDNmkads http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xXzeEfH6PTk http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VTPec8z5vdY http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aXbbWM1bKlE http://www.youtube.com...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P2hM9CLAMu4 Click the audio link to hear Alt.Latino 's Felix Contreras and Jasmine Garsd discuss the Latin Grammy Awards with Tell Me More 's Michel Martin. The 13th Annual Latin Grammy Awards were held in Las Vegas last night, and like the Grammys, the music and the prizes reflected a mixed bag of art and commerce. The big winner of the night was the sibling duo Jesse & Joy, whose four awards included song of the year and record of the year for the song "...