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'Best So Far' Of Latin Alternative Music In 2012


This is June, the time of year when our friends at NPRMusic compile songs, artists and albums for something they like to call their Best of the Year So Far List. And we thought we'd give you a sampling of some of their favorites. We're focusing today on Latin alternative music.

Felix Contreras and Jasmine Garsd hosts NPR's online show Alt.Latino and they spoke to WEEKEND EDITION's Rachel Martin about the sounds that are catching their ears in 2012.


I want to ask you, now that were about six months into this here, have you been able to identify any kind of musical trends?

JASMINE GARSD, BYLINE: Well, last year I predicted that this would be a great year for Spanish-language rap. Two of our favorites are female Spanish-language rappers that are coming out of full force, starting with Ana Tijoux from Chile. She just came out with an album called "La Bala," and one of my favorite tracks off of the album, which is just stellar, is "Las Cosas Por Su Nombre," or "Telling It Like It Is."


GARSD: This album was very much inspired by not only what's happening in Chile but in all of Latin America; the social protest movements. It's called "La Bala," "The Bullet," because she is lyrically like a bullet.

MARTIN: OK. And, Felix, what's your first pick?

FELIX CONTRERAS, BYLINE: We're going to continue with more female rappers.

MARTIN: Sure, why not?

CONTRERAS: This is a track that Jasmine brought in earlier in the year that just really knocked me out. It really made a big impression. This is a track called "Cuando Una Mujer Avanza" and it's by the rapper who calls herself Mare. She's from Oaxaca in southern Mexico. We'll play the music and then we'll talk a little bit about it.


CONTRERAS: It's a very short piece. After a short rap, she starts singing in the traditional style.


MARTIN: It's got kind of a traditional throwback sound underneath her rap, which seems like kind of a contradiction.

CONTRERAS: Well, you know, it's more like a coming together of the two worlds - of her tradition and then the obvious worldwide influence of hip-hop. The title means "When a Woman Advances." And it's talking about gender issues, social issues, sexuality issues; how women are treated in traditional societies.

MARTIN: OK, so we've had two female rappers. Jasmine, are you going to take us in a different direction with your next pick?

GARSD: Yes and no.



GARSD: I think really a lot of the artists that we're seeing this year are fusing traditional and newer genre in a way that - it's spectacular. I mean, it's like nothing you've ever heard before. And this next song that I picked is by Mati Zundel. He's an Argentine artist who recently released the album "Amazonico Gravitante" here in the U.S. He belongs originally to the Argentine Collective, the music collective ZZK. And this is the song "El Socio." [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: The name of the Mati Zundel song is "El Barracho (Remix of El Socio Original)."]


MARTIN: There's definitely like a house music kind of pumping electronica in there.

GARSD: Yeah. Pretty soon on Alt.Latino, were going to do a show about record labels to lookout for in the Latin alternative and Latin genre. And ZZK is like at the top of our list. They can do no wrong in our ears.


MARTIN: OK, Felix, what were you going to close this out with?

CONTRERAS: Something similar. Again, it's a combination of tradition and kind of way-out electronica. This track is called "La Espina del Cardenche." It's by a guy who calls himself Algodon Egipcio, which means Egyptian cotton.

MARTIN: Why does he call himself...

CONTRERAS: I'm not sure. I have no idea. Maybe he'll write and tell us.

MARTIN: He has fluffy hair. I don't know. Maybe that's why.


CONTRERAS: But this is the track.


MARTIN: That is an awesome synthesis of this kind of old timey sound and something completely ethereal and modern.

CONTRERAS: There's a lot of stuff going on in there. And what he's doing is like there some sampling going on, there's some new music being created - the atmosphere keyboard sound.

You know, that's one of the cool things about doing this show that we do, is that I get to hear music that I like to say to myself that I've waited my whole life to hear, I just didn't know. And that is one of those tracks where it just completely blew my mind. And it makes sense when you listen to it. When you can deconstruct the traditional elements, it makes total sense.


GARSD: Neither of us knew what canto cardenche was. And canto cardenche is a traditional northern Mexican type of song, which is a cappella. It has that kind of vocal style that almost sounds drunk, honestly. And it's just very full of pain. In fact, cardenche refers to the thorn of a cactus. So the idea behind it is that you sing with the same pain as when you pull out a thorn of a cactus from your body. So, you know, we also learned something new every single day.


CONTRERAS: All the time.

MARTIN: Well, that was amazing. It's only June...


MARTIN: ...and you've already brought us all kinds of selections of people who were kind of reaching back to their roots and pushing it in new directions. So, we'll look forward to what the next six months have in store.

CONTRERAS: Absolutely.


GREENE: Felix Contreras and Jasmine Garsd host Alt.Latino, NPR's online show about Latin alternative music. You can find it @npr.org/altlatino.

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "JUMP") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: July 1, 2012 at 10:00 PM MDT
We mistakenly referred to the song "El Borracho (Remix of El Socio Original)" as "El Socio."
Corrected: July 1, 2012 at 10:00 PM MDT
We mistakenly referred to the song "El Borracho (Remix of El Socio Original)" as "El Socio."