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Alt.Latino Playlist: From Up North To Down South

The venerable Preservation Hall Jazz Band makes a trip to Cuba and the results are funky <em>sabroso. </em>
Courtesy of the Artist
The venerable Preservation Hall Jazz Band makes a trip to Cuba and the results are funky sabroso.

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This week's playlist is like a geography lesson: we start in the Great White North and gradually make our way down to the Southern Cone with stops in the U.S. and the Caribbean.

Get out your maps or load the appropriate app, we're going on a musical road trip this week.

The Mariachi Ghost, "Cuerpo Mortal"

This is Latin music from north of the border. That's not a typo. A few years ago at SXSW, I happened upon a killer set by The Mariachi Ghost, a group of musicians from Canada, some of whom are from south of the both borders. They played a powerful contemporary rock en Español that had the small crowd completely enraptured and had me the object of interest of aCatrina-like ghost figure complete with Dia de los Muertos face paint (long story).

For "Cuerpo Mortal," the musicians put down their electric guitars and delve into the Latin soul sound that seems to be a thingat the moment. Lead vocalist Jorge Requena Ramos brings out the pathos of classic boleros over a musical arrangement that is pure 1960s soul ballad. — Felix Contreras

Cuco, "Keeping Tabs (feat. Suscat0)"

Cuco's first album Para Mi is proof that he can stretch out beyond self-released singles, creating a landscape of love, anxiety, and young fame with genre experiments in jazz, prog, and bossa nova. Amid these new forays, "Keeping Tabs" is the album's most quintessentially Cuco song, building on the dreamy foundations we know him for with a more textured, groove-driven production. The singsong chorus "I've been tripping off the tabs in my room / I don't know why, baby, but I'm feeling blue" followed by fellow L.A. musician Suscat0's repeated refrain of "smoking broken windows / playing my Nintendo" is classic Cuco, whimsical and just a little sad, with a little more life on him in general. — Stefanie Fernández

Residente, "Bellacoso (feat. Bad Bunny)"

After Puerto Rican governor Ricardo Rosselló announced his resignation late last Wednesday, Residente and Bad Bunny delivered the single they'd postponed until that outcome was realized. That's not to say they weren't keeping busy; on July 17, along with iLe, they released "Afilando Los Cuchillos," a brutal incision into the corruption and popular unrest that spurred the #RickyRenuncia movement. They dropped everything (Bad Bunny paused his European tour to fly back to the island) to join the protests and file this chapter of history.

Reggaeton has always been an insurgent genre (see: el perreo intenso). "Bellacoso" takes as its starting point the longstanding feminist movement against Rosselló by women and gender-non-conforming boricuas. The video features a diversity of bodies not often visible in mainstream reggaeton and its heat is contingent only on unambiguous consent. It's a first glimpse into Residente's upcoming album, composed from the EEG scans of his collaborators and himself. Clearly, there's been a lot on his mind. — Stefanie Fernández

Preservation Hall Jazz Band, "Keep Your Head Up (feat. Eme Alfonso)"

At one point in the 19th century, New Orleans was considered the northern most port of Cuba. The economic impact of the flow of goods between the island and the Crescent City was surpassed only by the flow of music that was carried by sailors. Even Jelly Roll Morton referred to the "Latin tinge" of the beats that came to define jazz later in the 20th century.

This track from the venerable Preservation Hall Jazz Band is from its new album A Tuba in Cuba, a glorious mash up in 12 tracks paying tribute to that connection as a living, breathing fact of life. Cuban vocalist Eme Alfonso illustrates how the syntax of Spanish can be second-line funky in the right hands.

And, for the record, the album's version of of the Cuban classic "El Manicero" is one of the best I have ever heard. — Felix Contreras

No Te Va Gustar, "De Nada Sirve (feat. Jorge Drexler)"

While this wonderfully musical album has been out for a minute, what's new is an artful video that captures the Uruguayan composer and vocalist Jorge Drexler paying tribute to his countrymen on this melancholic exploration of love. No Te Va Gustar may not have a high profile in the U.S., but its tour schedule reflects a deep connection to fans throughout Latin America with literate, sophisticated songwriting.

In fact, this new video is a great reminder to check out Otras Canciones, an album you may have missed. These live performances feature collaborations with Flor de Toloache, Draco Rosa and Julieta Venegas.

We don't always get second chances in life, so take advantage of this opportunity at another listen to a band you should know if you don't already. — Felix Contreras

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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.