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Introduction to Latin Alternative Music

Featuring an Interview with Alt.Latino Hosts Jasmine Garsd and Felix Contreras

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Photo Courtesy Kevin Winter / Getty Images

Calle 13

Photo Courtesy Kevin Winter / Getty Images

I recently had the opportunity to interview Jasmine Garsd and Felix Contreras, the hosts of NPR's Latin Alternative music program Alt.Latino. Thanks to their expertise and their work with one of the most influential sources of Latin Alternative music, Jasmine and Felix shared with me very interesting insights about the roots and state of this genre today. If you want to get a better understanding of Latin Alternative music, this interview will definitely help you to reach that goal. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

How did you get into Latin Alternative music?

Jasmine Garsd: I really got into it by default. I grew up in Buenos Aires, Argentina, which is where my entire family is from. Argentina is a mega-producer of Latin Rock and Latin Alternative music. I was a teenager at the time of the financial collapse of 2001, and at that time it seemed this genre of music was really narrating the situation and providing a voice of protest, so that is how I became interested and really involved in Latin Alternative music.

Felix Contreras: I was introduced to this music in the early nineties by a friend of mine who is from Mexico and was working with the Rock en Espanol business. Back then, I was introduced to this genre mostly through the music of Mexican bands like Caifanes, Cafe Tacvba and Maldita Vecindad.

How would you introduce Latin Alternative music to people who are just getting into this genre?

FC: When I introduce Latin Alternative music to people who do not really know anything about it, my approach is trying to find something within their music or cultural background they can identify with or relate to. I take into consideration if they like Rock, Punk, Funk or some genre of music that is mixed in with another type of Latin music. If they come, for example, from the Caribbean I may introduce them to some of the Techno-Merengue produced by Rita Indiana.

JG: I think Latin Alternative music is best described but what it is not. It is not anyone's genre and it is not a traditional genre. It is not Salsa, it is not Merengue, it is not Bachata, and it is not even Latin Rock. It is a combination of all of those. Latin Alternative music is also an attitude towards music. It is about not participating in the commercialization of music but also it is about being outspoken about certain issues that affect us.

You have, for example, a band like Calle 13. They are with a big record label but they are also very outspoken about issues that affect Latinos and Latin America in a way that other commercial artists are not. In other words, they are not just here for your entertainment. They are also here to make you think.

How popular is Latin Alternative music today?

JG: Well, I think it is very popular among the younger generations. I think in order to understand its popularity, you also have to understand the flexibility of the Hispanic listener especially young Latinos. They can have a great love of traditional genres like Salsa, Merengue and Tango in the same way they can love to dance at a Salsa club or attend a Heavy Metal concert of Sepultura from Brazil.

To put this in perspective, I think the Latin listener is more flexible than the English speaking listener. I find that among English speaking listeners there is more of a segregation regarding genres because usually if you listen to one genre, you do not really listen to other genres. I find that among Latin listeners that is very different.

FC: When I went to Mexico a few years ago to do some stories on Latin Alternative music, one of the things I discovered, at least from my experience in Mexico, is that it is only called Latin Alternative music in this country. In Mexico is either Rock en Espanol or just whatever type or music they are playing even if it is mixed with other stuff. I would say, it is popular in a way that people would find something to identify with, and a lot of people identify with Rock en Espanol as the kind of music that defines their alternative lifestyle.

Which countries are leading the way in terms of productions dealing with Latin Alternative music?

JG: I would say the usual suspects: Argentina, Colombia, Mexico. But there is also an amazing Indie Rock scene in Puerto Rico, a Grunge revival in Brazil, and Chile has not stopped producing great Indie Pop and New Folk musicians. So, I think there are the usual suspects but we try pretty hard in our show to steer clear of them. We include them but there is so much interesting stuff happening right now.

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