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'Alt.Latino' Hispanic Heritage Month Playlist


Once a month, we invite Felix Contreras to come in and share some music with us. And he usually has an artist or a group of songs to explore.


OMAR APOLLO: (Singing) Costly, I tell you...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: This time, he's going to squeeze in a whole month's worth of programming into this segment.

Good morning.

FELIX CONTRERAS, BYLINE: Good morning. Good morning. Good morning.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So what are you up to?

CONTRERAS: OK. The middle of September all the way through the middle of October is observed here in this country as Hispanic Heritage Month or Latino Heritage Month. And we like to say on Alt.Latino, every month is a heritage month for us, but I still like to do something special. So this morning, I'm going to share the special programming I have set up.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. I like what I'm hearing in the background. I'm sure there's a story behind the song.

CONTRERAS: This is a guy named Omar Apollo, and he is part of a Mexican Music Then and Now program that I have. And it features three interviews reflecting three different perspectives on Mexican music.

Number one, I talk to a group of 15-year-old mariachi musicians from Chicago who have a new album out. I spoke to a producer of a film called "Chulas Fronteras." It's a 1970s documentary about border music that's been reissued. And this guy - the guy we're listening to - is a young Mexican American from Indiana. His name is Omar Apollo, and he grew up on mariachi and boleros but also U.S. pop music. And I think his music is a fascinating combination of all those influences. Check him out.


APOLLO: (Singing) It's blood in your eyes. You're going far.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So are you going to dig deeper into the roots of all the different types of Latin music? It's a lot.

CONTRERAS: It's a bunch of stuff. OK - sort of, almost. We're going to definitely dig into the DNA of rock 'n' roll - the Cuban DNA of rock 'n' roll. Check this out.


CONTRERAS: That's a rhythm called Afro. It's influenced by West African sacred music or Santeria (ph) music, OK?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Because, of course, many enslaved people were brought to Cuba for the sugar farms.

CONTRERAS: Now check this out.


CHUCK BERRY: (Singing) Havana moon, Havana moon...

CONTRERAS: You hear that?


CONTRERAS: This is Chuck Berry from 1956.


CONTRERAS: And you can hear that musical connection. We dig into the Cuban roots of rock 'n' roll from in the mid-1950s. And there are a lot of other examples that we include - cha-cha-cha, mambo, even boleros - all of it mixed in with all the other sources here in the United States that made up rock 'n' roll.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I love that.


BERRY: (Singing) Me watch the tide easing in, is low the moon, but high the wind. Havana moon.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So like you said, every month is Latino Heritage Month for your show. So why set aside special programs for this heritage month period?

CONTRERAS: You know, every week, I try to have as many different examples of Latin music expression as possible. And even that phrase sometimes is stretching it a little bit because, you know, like that first act Omar Apollo - right? - the first cut we heard - is it Latin music because he's a Latin musician? Isn't playing this R&B?

You know, these are conversations that we have on the show all the time. And I let the musicians try to work through this. And that's part of the heritage month programming - is to try to show what's out there, but also reflect on the history, as well, so we can appreciate where we came from and where we are now.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, and understand Latino communities in the United States through music, which is so important. It's a great lens to look at it. What else do you have planned for the next couple weeks?

CONTRERAS: OK. I have a Jewish engineer from New Jersey in the early 1960s who pretty much single-handedly developed and then dominated that corner of the musical instrument manufacturing that makes Latin percussion instruments.

It's a really interesting and fascinating story, and it involves the Cuban economic embargo - 1962. That's all I'll say. You have to check it out. And then there's this.


CONTRERAS: The show this week features this Canadian flautist that we're hearing right now, Jane Bunnett. She's been traveling to Cuba for over 30 years because she can. She's from Canada, right? She has over a dozen albums with many well-known and respected musicians there on the island. And her new group is this up-and-coming all-female, Afro Cuban band that features some of the finest musicians on the island. And she has, at this point, decided to dedicate her career and her musical output to shining the light on female musicians in Cuba. Jane Bunnett is going to be on the show this week with her band Maqueque.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Felix Contreras is the host of the Alt.Latino podcast from NPR Music, and he joins us from time to time here on WEEKEND EDITION to talk us through Latin music. And happy Hispanic Heritage Month.

CONTRERAS: Same to you. 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.