Songs That Rocked 2012: Alt.Latino's Listener Picks

Dec 23, 2012
Originally published on December 30, 2012 12:45 pm

Throughout the year, Alt.Latino hosts Jasmine Garsd and Felix Contreras have been visiting Weekend Edition Sunday and sharing exciting new music from across the Latin world. Here, they swing by one last time before the year is up, to tell us about some of the best music of 2012.

Garsd and Contreras have been asking listeners to vote on their favorite songs, and the results are in: They range from deeply political Chilean rapper Ana Tijoux to the emotional music of up-and-coming Mexican crooners Carla Morrison and Natalia Lafourcade — plus Ondatropica, a project that brings together all the music of Colombia. Given the diversity of the region, that's no small feat.

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Throughout the year, WEEKEND EDITION has been visiting with Jasmine Garsd and Felix Contreras. They host NPR Music's Alt.Latino, a show about Latino alternative music. And they're here with us one last time this year to talk about some of the best music of 2012. Felix, Jasmine, welcome to the program.

FELIX CONTRERAS, BYLINE: Thank you, thank you very much.




WERTHEIMER:, this week you were handing over the programming to the listeners, playing their favorites of the year. So, give us an example of one of the pieces of music picked by the audience.

GARSD: Well, one of the big names that kept coming up is Natalia Lafourcade. And this has been a really big year for social, political Latin song. And this is called "Un Derecho de Nacimiento," or "A Right from Birth."


NATALIA LAFOURCADE: (Singing in Spanish)

GARSD: This song came out during the last Mexican presidential elections earlier this year. And what was being protested was what they claim is widespread political corruption and they claim was an unfair election.

WERTHEIMER: But the tone of this song, Felix, the tone of this song is mournful. It doesn't seem to be outrage. It seems to me somehow that the tone and the message are not quite fitting.

CONTRERAS: It's a lot of the protest music that we're hearing is along the lines of what was called nueva trova, the new song movement from the '60s that came from the various progressive governments that were coming out of South America in the late '60s, early '70s. I always heard a parallel to things like Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, you know, where they're not out and right in your face. But "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll" comes to mind from Bob Dylan, because it's certainly a...

GARSD: Good example.

CONTRERAS: ...tragic story but a very, very mournful song.


LAFOURCADE: (Singing in Spanish)


WERTHEIMER: The next listener's pick, I understand, is a Colombian group, Bomba Estereo. Tell me more about them.

CONTRERAS: Bomba Estereo released their second album this year, and it's one of the few times that I'm listening to music that I immediately liked it from the first note. There's a lot of electronic textures. There's a lot of very insightful lyrics. This song, "Pa' Respirar," means "To Breathe." And in it, the singer, Li Saumet, is writing about I need a moment to breathe. I need a moment to catch up with my life. I need a moment to take in what's going on in the world as it's going on all around me.


BOMBA ESTEREO: (Singing in foreign language)

WERTHEIMER: Some people might recognize the next song your listeners picked. It's "La Bamba." But this is a different "La Bamba." Let's listen.


LAS CAFETERAS: (Singing in Spanish)

GARSD: This is "La Bamba Rebelde," "The Rebel Bamba," not the original "Bamba."

CONTRERAS: Well, there was an original "La Bamba," goes all the way back to Ritchie Valens, and then Los Lobos redid it again - a very popular version in 1987. But it's a song that, you know, my father played to us when we were little kids on his guitar. And when I was in the high school band playing in Mexican weddings, we played "La Bamba" forever. So, it's been around for a long, long time.


CAFETERAS: (Singing in Spanish)

WERTHEIMER: I heard that. I heard Chicano. I don't remember that in the original "La Bamba." What are they talking about in this song?

GARSD: They are still maintaining the essence of "La Bamba," which is a song jarocho, or traditional music of Veracruz, Mexico. You know, they'd have that rhythm and the very funny verses. But they really changed it lyrically. You know, the original says (Spanish spoken).

WERTHEIMER: I'm not a (unintelligible), yeah.

GARSD: I'm a captain. And they said (Spanish spoken).



CAFETERAS: (Singing in Spanish)

WERTHEIMER: So, what should be our big finish for this show and the year?

CONTRERAS: We're going to finish with something from a project called Ondatropica. And this is an interesting backstory. There is a Colombian musician and there is a British DJ, and what they did is they got together a lot of Colombian icons - musical icons - together with younger musicians all around the folk music called cumbia. And so what they did is they packed two CDs' worth of just fantastic music that looks forward while it looks back.

WERTHEIMER: OK. This track is called "Suena."


ONDATROPICA: (Singing in Spanish)

GARSD: This whole album really mixes a lot of traditional Colombian styles, like gaita, champeta, cumbia, and it mixes it with new stuff, like funk, and in this case with hip-hop. This is Chilean rapper Ana Tijoux. One of the most important rappers right now, a female MC, who is really helming the ship of Latin alternative music.

CONTRERAS: When I hear this album this year, I just fell in love with it. It was recorded, by the way, at a place called Discos Fuentes in Medellin, which is, like, the Abbey Road of Colombia, let's say. So, they used that magic of all these classic recordings within that studio, brought in all these older musicians, younger musicians, and made even more magic.


WERTHEIMER: Felix Contreras and Jasmine Garsd co-host NPR Music's Alt.Latino, in which one a week they play some of their favorite new and classic Latin alternative music. Jas, Felix, thank you for stopping by, and we'll see you in 2013.

GARSD: We'll see you in 2013.

CONTRERAS: Thank you. Happy New Year.

GARSD: Happy New Year.


WERTHEIMER: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Rachel Martin is back next week. I'm Linda Wertheimer. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.