Wednesday, January 02, 2013


See Alt.Latino main page to search stories or to listen live
I have been interested in the music of Latin America for more than a decade, and have incorporated some of the rich variety of the region's music in my teaching and outreach.

My very first exposure to the musical traditions of Brazil and Cuba was even earlier, through the production work of David Byrne at Luaka Bop. My interest really grew through  friends and colleagues who shared their favorite music during my visits to Latin America, Once I started listening to these songs (mainly on CDs), I started to make connections. I must confess, though, that my seven years in the border area were wasted, musically speaking, as I did not even attempt to understand Tejano or Conjunto music until I moved north.

I continue to appreciate the incredible variety of music from Latin America, but must admit that my pursuit of coffee, tea, and now chocolate have distracted me a bit in recent years, so that my Musica web pages have experienced a bit of neglect.

This is where Alt.Latino comes in. I first started hearing about it a few months ago, around the edges of my habitual NPR listening and reading. When I decided to fluff up my pages this week, I decided to have a look around, and I was richly rewarded. Hosts Jasmine Garsd and Felix Contreras have put a name to a pattern I had started to notice but could not articulate: From them I have realized that Latin Alternative is a way to describe many of the musics to which I was being drawn.

Like the music, the program seems to be evolving, from its chance beginnings near the NPR vending machines, into a major force with several different manifestations, including hour-long produced shows, blog posts, various social-media and spots on other NPR programs. It also has a continues internet radio stream. As I browsed through the weekly shows, the first I found was an interview with Manu Chao, whose Clandestino CD each member of my family has memorized to varying degrees.

The wide-ranging interview is a genuine treat, mixing insights about politics and art with samples of his work and the work of others whose music he enjoys. It was my first encounter with the song "Me gustas tu," a silly and catchy tune that is as close to pop as I've heard him. As with many of his songs, the "VIDEO OFFICIAL" version is a visual feast, and the best way to enjoy the music. This track is from the Proxima Estacion: Esperanza (Next Station: Hope) CD. On my first perusal, I noticed many songs that sample his own earlier works.

On YouTube, it was not difficult to find an unofficial version of the song with printed lyrics (albeit with a few typos). For those learning a language, such videos are a real blessing.

More about my own thoughts on Manu Chao and some similar artists is on my Musica - Eclectic page.


¡Que Miedo! was the Halloween 2012 episode of the program, which explored the intersection of folklore and contemporary Latin music, including sexy horror that predates Twilight. The discussion includes, of course, both the chupacabras and various versions of the La Llorona tale. The Chavela Vargas version they play is used in a popular Frida Kahlo tribute video; my 2010 La Llorona post includes two other variations -- a spoken-word reading and television advertisement.

(In addition to the musica web page, this blog includes a number of posts with a musica label. I am available for presentations on this topic at high school and college campuses, as I am for presentations on the geography of coffee, tea, or chocolate. )

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