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Alt.Latino Playlist: Catching Up After A Short Summer Getaway

Los Tigres del Norte retrace Johnny Cash's steps at Folsom Prison 50 years later.
Courtesy of the Artist
Los Tigres del Norte retrace Johnny Cash's steps at Folsom Prison 50 years later.

Even your dedicated Alt.Latino crew has to take some time off every now and then. As we dispersed to beaches, poolsides or family gatherings, the new music piled up so this week we try to squeeze in as many as we can and we'll probably have to do it again.

And do I really need to say it? The range of stylistic and genre expressions astounds. Prepare to add Latino bluegrass to your list of likes!

Stream:Spotify,Apple Music.

Mon Laferte, "Canción de Mierda"

Mon Laferte wears a lot of faces as an artist. After 2018's Norma, a burning 10-song cycle of mambo, cumbia, salsa, and more, the Chilean singer returned with "Chilango Blues," a return to the darker, smoky-bar ballad we love her for. "Canción de Mierda" is similarly stylized, but the lyrics this time are a smashed plate of feminine frustration. The song (and video) begins with a noirish picture of this archetype, washing the dishes — "Voy a ponerme a lavar las tazas / Pa' ver si así el dolor se me pasa" — before the song breaks into her show of survival. "Tú que vas a saber / Si tu no sangras una vez al mes?" she asks, survivor of all kinds of bloodshed.

-- Stefanie Fernández

Nino Augustine, "Me Toca a Mi"

Panamanian Atlanta rapper Nino Augustine has the benefit of being from the two seats of reggaeton and southern hip-hop, respectively. Growing up with the music of Panamanian reggae en españolartists like El General and Kafu Banton gave Augustine the primary texts of a genre now associated primarily with Puerto Rico, and Atlanta gave him a much nearer experimental edge in trap than his peers in Latin trap. The result is a debut album, Me Toca a Mi, that covers all this territory in seven songs. Consider the title track, a callback to reggaeton viejo with an ATL boost. — Stefanie Fernández

iLe, "Tu Rumba"

The reverberations from's astounding albumAlmadura continue. "Tu Rumba" gets a stunning video treatment as her rumination on compatibility uses two Afro Caribbean forms of music as a metaphor for individuals.

As she wonders if her 'rumba' will mesh with another's 'mambo,' the visuals capture the intensity, drama and majesty of Puerto Rican folk dancing. As producer Ismael Cancel told merecently, the rhythms that propelAlamaduraare hybrids that he overlaps. The principal dancers and drummers of the video reference those traditions with a bit of magic realism thrown in.

Almadura continues to give way to repeated listening and I can't wait for more visual interpretations.

-- Felix Contreras

Los Tigres del Norte, "Folsom Prison Blues"

Only Los Tigres del Norte could have pulled this off. In April of 2018, the beloved Mexican regional band Los Tigres del Norte marked the 50th anniversary of a seminal moment in English language pop music: Country legend Johnny Cash's visit to Folsom Prison.I was with the band that brisk spring morning after the gates were locked behind us and the band ascended the make shift stage in front of a crowd in the main prison yard. There is a Netflix documentary and live album from the concert coming during Latino Heritage Month.

This video of a Spanish language version of Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues" gives us a glimpse of what's in store as both male and female inmates lavish the band for not forgetting them behind the prison's thick granite walls, just as others did with Johnny Cash 50-some years ago.

A feeling of redemption was heavy in the air backstage and on the yard and I can't wait to see it all play out again in the documentary.

-- Felix Contreras

Che Apalache, "The Dreamer"

North Carolina native Joe Troop grew up with the bluegrass soundtrack of his native North Carolina but then after many years abroad he ignored the idea of boundaries and created a brilliant mash up of bluegrass and various forms of traditional Latin music. The "Che" in the band's current base of Buenos Aires (it means 'buddy/pal/bro/dude') and their new album Rearrange My Heart was produced by another genre buster, banjo player/producer Bela Fleck.

"The Dreamer" is what you expect, a meditation on people who were brought to the U.S. as children without documentation and who now currently live in a legal limbo.

The genius of this band is hearing the bluegrass chorus vocal stylings sing in Spanish as a perfect compliment to the achingly bluegrass inspired plaintive lead vocal. As I heard a bluegrass musician friend say one time, that vocal style 'comes straight from the heart and through the nose.'

From beginning to end, Rearrange My Heartis a Must Hear.

-- Felix Contreras

Cable Head, "Cierro Los Ojos"

Meet Cable Head, an anonymous futuristic one-being-band who debuted "its" first single "Cierro Los Ojos" produced by "Mr. Sonic" at the Latin Alternative Music Conference (LAMC) opening night BMI showcase. Donning computer cables completely wrapped around its head to represent our connection to each other and the planet, Cable Head carries us through dimensions of time and vibration combining alt-space-rock and breathy vocals that are cleverly layered with vintage technology, modern sounds and synthesizers to lyrics "about troubled relationships" doubling as a "cry for help for Mother Earth before it's too late." Breaking into "me despierto" ("I wake up,") the chorus interjects a hypnotic call to action this being is on a passionate mission to deliver.

-- Marisa Arbona-Ruiz

KC Porter feat. Allison Iraheta Olmeca, "La Pared"

KC Porter is one of those behind the scenes names who has had profound influence on contemporary music (Selena, Luis Miguel, Santana, Los Fabulosos Cadillacs, many others) who is stepping out once again and putting his own music out. Perhaps today's political climate inspired the move given the subject of his new single, "La Pared" (The Wall). He is joined by vocalist Allison Iraheta (American Idol, Telemundo's Quinceañera: Mamá Quiero Ser Artista) and rapper , who has a long track record of calling attention to social injustices. The visuals of the video reflect the humanitarian crisis that exists at the border from the perspective of the folks who are suffering most.

An bold statement from an artist who certainly knows how to make both popular releases as well as socially relevant statements, often on the same record.

-- Felix Contreras

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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