May's Latin Music Roundup: New Songs For Emotional Release

May 31, 2020
Originally published on May 31, 2020 10:28 am

Alt.Latino host Felix Contreras joins Weekend Edition host Lulu Garcia-Navarro for their monthly new music chat. The tracks featured this week come from several corners of the Latin music world and all center on themes of inspiration and emotional release, which Felix says is exactly what we need during these difficult times. Listen to the conversation in the audio player above and check out all of the tracks below.


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It's time for our regular visit with Felix Contreras from the Alt.Latino podcast. This time, he brings us more new music, although I have to ask, considering all the things that are going on in the world right now, how open are people really right now to discovering new music?

FELIX CONTRERAS, BYLINE: You know, it's a good question, and it has a curious two-part answer. First of all, what we've seen is people are depending on music probably more than ever for emotional support or a bit of mindfulness or even escape. And secondly, there was lots of music recorded before the world changed, and many artists held off releasing that because there was so much uncertainty about the day-to-day existence in those early, early days. And as a result, there's a ton of amazing music in our corner of the music world. And I found a theme running through the examples I brought in that speak to this moment we're living through.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: OK, what did you find?

CONTRERAS: OK. First up, a new single by vocalist and drummer Cindy Blackman Santana. It's a cover of "Imagine," the anthem for peace and togetherness made popular by John Lennon and written by Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono. It was just released this past Friday. And I was struck by the intensity of the vocals by Cindy and the guitar playing by her husband, Carlos Santana.


CINDY BLACKMAN SANTANA: (Singing) Imagine all the people...

CONTRERAS: It reminds me of Jimi Hendrix's "Star Spangled Banner" at Woodstock because there's so much anguish and so much raw emotion in both the vocals and the guitar playing. And in light of what we're living through this weekend around the country, sometimes a ballad just won't do. Sometimes, we do need to let it out as loud as we can.


SANTANA: (Singing) I hope someday, you will join us, and the world will live as one.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, you can really just hear that emotion. And it's a familiar song but, you know, with a kind of gravelly gravitas, if you will.

CONTRERAS: There's a lot in there - packed in there. And it's important to note that this is the first song from a playlist called SongAid. It's sponsored by the nonprofit WhyHunger. And each time it's streamed, proceeds go to fight what they say is the global hunger crisis exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic around the world.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. What's next?

CONTRERAS: OK. This pandemic lockdown has me doing a lot of self-reflection. And these next tracks are the result of self-reflection and introspection on life's bigger themes from some favorite Alt.Latino artists. I brought in a new track from Mireya Ramos. She's the vocalist and violinist with the Grammy- and Latin Grammy-winning all-female mariachi called Flor De Toloache. She covered a David Bowie tune. It's something that could be considered a deep track. It's the last song on the 1973 album "Aladdin Sane."


MIREYA RAMOS: (Singing) She'll come. She'll go.

CONTRERAS: It's a ballad called "Lady Grinning Soul." And the track is a statement of self-identity - her mixed heritage of Mexican and Dominican roots, her vocal style influenced by the great soul singers of the 1960s, taking on a poignant ballad from the fiercest era of the Bowie catalog. This just screams, this is who I am. This is who we are, a mix of influences and inspirations. She's accompanied by vocalist Gaby Moreno and longtime Bowie keyboardist Mike Garson, who played on the 1973 original.



GARCIA-NAVARRO: Wow. I can't wait to hear what your next bit of self-reflection sounds like.

CONTRERAS: Vocalist Gina Chavez is one of the first artists we covered on Alt.Latino. She's an Austin-based singer-songwriter, and she's worked exclusively in English. And she just released her first all-Spanish material, an EP called "La Que Manda."


GINA CHAVEZ: (Singing in Spanish).

CONTRERAS: Again, it's a fascinating display of a mash-up of influences that is the Latino experience here in the U.S. Her story is our story. This track is called "Ella."


CHAVEZ: (Singing in Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Oh, I love that. It's amazing.

CONTRERAS: I want to wrap up with the Mexican vocalist Natalia Lafourcade's new album. It's called "Canto Para Mexico Vol. 1" (ph). She's on the current edition of the podcast this week explaining the album's musical roots of Mexican son jarocho from her native state of Veracruz. In fact, this track is called "Mi Tierra Veracruzana."


NATALIA LAFOURCADE: (Singing in Spanish).

CONTRERAS: It's a beautiful record. And in the course of listening to this album for the first time, Lulu, I was overcome with emotion about her own journey of self-discovery and making this album because by digging deeper into the origins of the music, she's essentially digging deeper into herself. And from what I'm hearing from friends, many of us are doing the same thing - tapping into the things within us that inspire us and give us strength, the very things we need to get us through these extremely trying times.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Indeed they are. Felix Contreras is the host of NPR Music's Alt.Latino, which celebrates its 10th anniversary in a few weeks on June 15. Thanks so much.

CONTRERAS: Thank you, Lulu.


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