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This Week On Alt.Latino: Nothing Is What It Seems

Identity is a tricky thing: How do we label ourselves, and what exactly does it mean? And to whom?

This week's show explores the same dilemma through a musical prism: a Chilean band with a thing for Bollywood, an Argentine paying homage to a city in Peru, a bunch of Spanish indie rockers paying tribute to a Mexican mariachi legend. Call it what you will: genre-busting, musical diplomacy, musical self-exploration. It's all exciting and utterly satisfying to us here at Alt.Latino.

This week's show also features La Santa Cecilia's unabashed throwback to Mexican cumbia, which to me has always screamed genre-bending.

As a Mexican-American kid growing up in California, I heard cumbia from my aunts, who learned the two-step groove at dance halls featuring Mexican-American bands. Cumbia had become part of the Mexican musical soundscape by way of sailors in port Mexican port cities like Veracruz who introduced music they heard in place like Colombia. It made its way across the border and into the consciousness of the Mexican-American Southwest.

It wasn't until I was an adult that I learned cumbia was a Colombian form and not Mexican. It was one of my first lessons in how musicians ignore boundaries to create something that reflects a little of who they are as well as a bit of the world around them.

As with the rest of the music on this week's show, it's a lesson we'd all be wise to pay attention to if we want to learn more about the world around us, as well as ourselves.

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Felix Contreras is co-creator and host of Alt.Latino, NPR's pioneering radio show and podcast celebrating Latin music and culture since 2010.