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.

There are a few lines from the oft-covered song "México Americano" that sum up the experience of millions of folks in the U.S. and have always seemed to me to be the ultimate expression of patriotism:

Por mi madre soy Mexicano. (From my mother I am Mexican.)

Por destino soy Americano. (By destiny I am American.)

The artist Helado Negro (Roberto Lange) made a very big impression on me when I first experienced him almost eight years ago. It was a sound I had never quite heard, and I was immediately drawn in; there were layers of synths, percussion that percolated rather than pulsed, vocals that epitomized the world ethereal and lyrics in Spanish and English that floated amidst the music like wisps of smoke.

Danay Suarez is one of Cuba's most underappreciated exports. In March, the vocalist and rapper released a new album, Palabras Manuales, that went criminally under-noticed. It's a strong sophomore effort that showcases Suarez's sophisticated style of rapping and beautiful singing voice, which intertwines itself with her evocative lyrics like a beguiling ocean spray.

Mexico is not known as one of the international jazz capitals of the world. New York, Tokyo — even Havana.

In many ways, the traditions of flamenco and jazz could not be further apart, but in the hands of a few Spanish jazz musicians, these two worlds commingle and find common ground. Antonio Lizana is one such musician, both a saxophonist and vocalist with one foot firmly planted in each tradition. As a vocalist he has mastered the Moorish, note-bending improvisations that make flamenco singing so beguiling, while the fluidity of ideas he expresses as a saxophonist place him in the time-honored tradition of composing while playing.

These guys had me at their name.

Ever since I heard the first EP back in 2009 I've watched Chicano Batman grow, with a sound that perfectly captures dark lounges, quinceañera dances, car shows and backyard parties.

Lots of other folks have heard something in this music — since that debut the band has played some of the biggest outdoor music festivals for diverse crowds around the country.

Some say you have to have loved and lost to appreciate the beauty of the bolero. Since its inception in Cuba in the early 20th century, the music has been designed for thoughtful and emotional consideration of the joys and pains that come with loving someone so intensely, it becomes like a religion to adore that special someone (an actual bolero lyric).

Lila Downs has spent her career exploring the furthest reaches of Mexican folk music. With a voice that borrows heavily from opera, Downs performs the kind of full-throated mariachi singing that would fit right in at Mexico City's Garibaldi Square — ground zero for mariachi.

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