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Alt.Latino Explores Afro-Latin Music For Black History Month


February is Black History Month, a celebration that goes back to 1926, when it was known as Negro History Week. To celebrate, our friends at Alt.Latino are highlighting Afro-Latino culture through interviews and, of course, music. Alt.Latino host, Felix Contreras, is in the studio with us to share some of his picks. Hey, Felix.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: So Felix had help this month from Alt.Latino assistant producer, NPR Kroc Fellow Jessica Diaz-Hurtado, who's also with us in the studio. Hey, Jessica.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: OK. So Black History Month is also known as African-American History Month. But there are obviously some in the Afro-Caribbean and Afro-Latino community who feel that that phrase does not capture some of their culture.

CONTRERAS: OK. First of all, let me say that I'm not Afro-Latino. But there is quite a bit of information out there in social media and in media in general about how these folks feel sort of trapped or neglected between either being Latino or African-American and - even to the point of, like, they don't know what box to click on the census often. So, as a result, there's a very strong movement now to reclaim a sense of Afro-Latino.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And, obviously, one of the ways to do that is through their music. Jessica, you're 26 today. Happy birthday.

DIAZ-HURTADO: Thank you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: (Laughter) So we're counting on you to bring us your youthful insights. So where do you see Afro-Latino identity in music?

DIAZ-HURTADO: I think there is this reclaiming of Afro-Latinidad through culture and through music. And one of the examples I think of is "Africana" by Los Rakas. Los Rakas is an Afro-Panamanian group based out of the Bay Area. They have this fusion called Panabay where they mix Caribbean sounds with hip-hop. And "Africana" is an ode to black women and their beauty.


LOS RAKAS: (Singing in Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So the group talking there about the beauty of black skin, the color of caramel, a celebration of African women. Felix, you're going to introduce us to something close to my heart, obviously, having been based in Brazil, some classic Afro-Brazilian sounds.

CONTRERAS: OK. There's a great album that came out recently. It's called "The Brasileiro Treasure Box Of Funk And Soul."


CONTRERAS: And it's a collection of killer tracks from the '70s. And it's fascinating because, in the pre-Internet era, when you read the lines and notes and look at the dates when they were recorded, things were happening in Brazil almost instantaneously as they were happening in the United States in terms of instrumentation, in terms of style, in terms of sound. And I brought in a track called "Swinga Sambaby." It's by a group called Trio Mocoto. And you can hear, if you listen closely - if you just take out the Portuguese, you can hear, like, maybe even some Herbie Hancock from the '70s. Check it out.


TRIO MOCOTO: (Singing in Portuguese).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So, Jessica, what's happening in Brazilian culture and music today? What stands out to you?

DIAZ-HURTADO: Right now I have my eye on Liniker e os Caramelows. There's a song they have called "Zero." Liniker - she fronts the band. She's a black, trans woman. And she's a singer. And they're based in Sao Paulo. And I was able to interview Liniker. And she says that, simply, her mere presence on stage as a black, trans woman is very political because she feels that society tries to invisibilize (ph) her community. And "Zero" is a song about reframing how we see love and how we share it.


LINIKER E OS CARAMELOWS: (Singing in Portuguese).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: As you guys explored the musical roots of Afro-Latino music this month, what else stood out to you?

CONTRERAS: OK. So recently, we had Dan Sheehy come in. He's the curator emeritus of the Smithsonian Folkways Records. And they have a vast catalog of folk music from all over the world and a pretty amazing collection of folk music from all over Latin America and, to make it even more specific, a great collection of Afro-Latino music - traditional music from all over. So we had music from Mexico, Venezuela, Peru, all kinds of stuff. We had a bunch of stuff on the show. But I brought in a track from Colombia. This is going to put a little pep into your Sunday morning, OK?


CONTRERAS: It's Vallenato from Colombia.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Ah. I love Vallenato.

CONTRERAS: Right? And the album's called "Ayombe! The Heart Of Colombia's Musica Vallenata." And it features the accordion. And this is called "Pedacito de Acordeon."

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Piece of accordion.


IVO DIAZ AND BAND: (Singing in Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Felix Contreras is the host of Alt.Latino. And Jessica Diaz-Hurtado is NPR Kroc Fellow and Alt.Latino assistant producer extraordinaire. This month, Alt.Latino dedicates Black History Month to Afro-Latino culture and music. Enjoy.


IVO DIAZ AND BAND: (Singing in Spanish). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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