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Alt.Latino's end of summer playlist showcases music from Colombia, Mexico and Austin, Texas



Do not attempt to adjust your radio. There is nothing wrong. NPR Music's Alt.Latino has taken control to bring you some music, and we will return to you as soon as you are grooving. Felix Contreras, this sounds like a soundtrack to another world.

FELIX CONTRERAS, BYLINE: This is indeed the world of a Colombian band called Los Cotopla Boyz. The band describes their sound as millennial cumbia. And they say their mission is to save the party in the, quote, "post-pandemic dystopian multiverse of today," right?

GURA: All right.

CONTRERAS: Lofty goals for a band that is part of a movement in Colombia that links the Afro-Colombian traditions of cumbia with futurism and a nod toward those cool electronic instruments of the 1960s. Their album is called "Millennial Cumbia For The End Of The World," and we played an instrumental to open the segment this week. But the rest of the album is full of playful lyrics and often just plain old silly but with killer grooves. It's from one of my favorite record labels, the folks at ZZK and AYA Records.


GURA: I love that. The electronic instruments you mentioned - the cowbell it sounds like as well, Felix. What else is on your current rotation?

CONTRERAS: OK, completely shifting gears.

GURA: All right.


EL TRI: (Speaking Spanish).

CONTRERAS: I brought in a track from a new album by a band from Mexico. And, you know, I hate to use analogies like saying so-and-so are the Rolling Stones of Mexico, et cetera. But I got to say, this band has been waving the flag of blues-based rock 'n' roll in Mexico for over 50 years.

GURA: Fifty years.

CONTRERAS: Yep. And they are just as much a musical institution in Latin America as the Stones. They're called El Tri, and they're led by the very charismatic lead singer named Alex Lora. Music fans throughout Latin America and here in the United States can recognize his raspy voice with just one note. And I can't announce the name of the album.

GURA: OK (laughter).

CONTRERAS: It's a Mexican slang word that Lora uses to celebrate the resilience of everyday Mexicans to not only persevere in the face of so many challenges in their country, but also to do so with a gusto and lust for life in all of its glories. That spoken intro we heard is from a song called "Con Mis Amigos," and it says, don't walk ahead of me because I won't follow. Don't walk behind me because I won't lead. Walk side by side so we can get there together. And I always thought he had the poetic sensibilities of a Bob Dylan. But again, I don't like to make those analogies.


EL TRI: (Singing in Spanish).

GURA: You're reluctant to make those analogies. I know you're judicious. There must be a reason for making them, Felix. Why do I get the feeling we're going to shift gears once again?

CONTRERAS: Because you've probably been listening to me and Ayesha talking about music, and I change things up.

GURA: (Laughter).

CONTRERAS: You know, next up is an artist that I'm very fond of. And he's an example of the kind of talent that is out there that certainly deserves much wider recognition. Rene Lopez, or Rene Lopez, is a vocalist in New York whose dad was part of the Fania salsa scene back in the '70s. So he grew up with that world, but also with some serious R&B from the '70s and '80s. And I've always thought that his music combines the best of both of those worlds, a truly bicultural and even multicultural existence. He's an indie artist who often self-releases his albums.

Man, I like his voice, his musical sensibilities, his prolific output. And he has an album coming out next month in September. But he released a single to give us a glimpse of a different direction he's taking his music. I've heard the whole album and, as usual, it's so impressive. This is the single called "Boy."


RENE LOPEZ: (Singing) Boy, you got me feeling I'm scared. Couldn't climb as high, but I always tried. I won't be your pawn.

GURA: Felix, it has such a big sound, such a rich sound as well.

CONTRERAS: Yeah. Yeah, and it's - like I said, it's a different thing for him because usually it's acoustic guitar-based or piano-based. I'm very, very impressed with his new stuff as well, man. Can't go wrong.

GURA: Give us one more, if you would.

CONTRERAS: OK, we started with futurism and we're going to end with futurism - this time from Austin, Texas.

GURA: Fair enough.


CONTRERAS: I'm a sucker for the groovy, retro and neo-soul that's coming from Austin and South Texas these days. The band is called Caramelo Haze.


CARAMELO HAZE: (Singing in Spanish).

CONTRERAS: It's really an all-star band pulling from some killer Austin outfits like Brownout, the Black Pumas, Grupo Fantasma, who once backed Prince, and the Southern California group Quetzal. Their debut album is called "NOESTASAQUI," which means he or she's not here, and it's all run together in one word. They describe it as, quote, "a unique twist of Afro-Colombian folklore meets steamy South Texas soul, where psychedelic Americana is blended with the soaring highland sounds of central Mexico."

GURA: Sounds good.

CONTRERAS: Yeah, right? Lots of words, but the proof is in the pudding because to my ears, that's exactly what it sounds like - sonic futurism for your Sunday mornings from another favorite record label of mine, Nacional Records. Love this record a lot.


GURA: The new Austin sound. I love it. Felix Contreras, host of the Alt.Latino podcast from NPR Music. And, Felix, I understand you're coming back next month with some big news.

CONTRERAS: Man, I've got such big news. I'm dying to tell everybody, but we're going to have to wait, man. It's going to be a big deal.

GURA: A killer tease. Felix, thank you very much.

CONTRERAS: Thank you, man. I really appreciate it. Thank you.


CARAMELO HAZE: (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.