Marisa Arbona-Ruiz

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!

The musical world is full stories of musical progeny who either embrace or struggle to get out from under their famous parents. Cuban vocalist Haydée Milanés walks around with one of the most famous names in all of Latin America.

Every summer, Alt.Latino hits the road to attend the three largest Latin music festivals and it gets harder and harder to catch it all.

At 36, Vicente García is a music legend in the making. The Dominican-born singer-songwriter is decidedly non-conventional, humble yet dynamic — and the higher his star rises, the tighter he grips onto his artistic freedom, aiming to evolve his musicality while staying grounded.

"It hasn't been easy," García says. "Labels and people in the industry just want to make you [follow] formulas, and I'm getting to that point that people know that I'm not doing it. People know who I am."

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Apple playlist at the bottom of the page.


Flor de Toloache stuns at the crossroads of fusion and mariachi girl magic. Whether intimately airy or ice-crackingly powerful, their intricate vocal runs and harmonic alchemy seem to defy logic with equally clever instrumental arrangements by the singers themselves.

At this point, Lila Downs now has the kind of artistic stature among her fans that she has for the women she has celebrated throughout her career. She has always paid tribute to great voices and artist such as Chavela Vargas, Mercedes Sosa and even Joan Baez.

We tried something new this year at the annual SXSW Music Festival. We tracked down a bunch of Latin musicians, put a microphone in front of them wherever we find them and then ask them about their music.

To do this, I needed help so I called in Alt.Latino contributors Marisa Arbona Ruiz and Catalina Maria Johnson.

I struggled to balance the conflicting emotions of enjoying the musical celebration that is the annual SXSW Festival with the pain of the devastating loss of life in Friday's terrorist attack in New Zealand. It was an emotional push and pull that I kept completely to myself.

I say this to anyone who will listen: Latin music these days is exploding with so much creativity and inspiration that it is simply overwhelming. Once you get past the billions of views on YouTube of the reggaeton- inspired pop music, you'll find myriad artists who consider their cultural backgrounds a blank canvas on which they express their sense of self and identity.

This year we mark our annual summer Latin music festival show with an accompanying deeper dive into the reason some of these festivals exist: lack of inclusion on the big summer festival stages.

Listen to the podcast and read how the Latinx community is dealing with representation in the music industry.

Funny what the passage of 50 years will do to a controversy.

Pianist, composer and bandleader Arturo O'Farrill was born into Afro-Cuban jazz royalty but growing up he rejected his famous musical heritage. Now, he travels the world sharing his late father Chico O'Farrill's legacy as a principal architect of the mash up of jazz and Afro-Cuban music in the late 1940s.

Colombian band Bomba Estéreo has a hit on its hands, and the story behind its success is a testament to fan demand and the power of a great song.

At 87 years young, the legendary Cuban Diva of the Buena Vista Social Club, Omara Portuondo, brought gasps of delight, then rapturous applause, just by walking out on the stage in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday night. She graciously acknowledged the love in the room then continued with her rendition of beloved classic "Veinte Años," backed by just a pianist.

Colombia's Monsieur Periné is at that sweet spot of a band's maturation process wherein they've solidified what they know, but are unafraid to venture towards what they don't.

Consider that the group's last album, Caja de Musica, flowed with French-inspired swing-jazz feel-goodness, leading to a breakout 2015 Latin Grammy win for best new artist.

As the humanitarian and political crisis continued to mount in her native Venezuela, Ane Diaz turned to the folk songs that shaped her early life and put her own spin on them, as a way to protect what she considers national treasures.

One of the bands I'm thrilled to catch at SXSW is Balún, who will be part of a showcase of Latin bands this week. When I first met the Brooklyn-based band at NuevoFest in Philadelphia last summer, they really stood out for their exciting, genre-morphing explorations into alternative rock, electronic pop and Puerto Rican folkloric grooves.

Colombian vocalist J Balvin is still riding the huge wave created by last year's Latin music explosion.

There is another revolution happening in Cuba these days.

A group of young female musicians — including Daymé Arocena, Danay Suárez and the all-female band Jane Bunnett and Maqueque — are challenging both musical and cultural conventions, creating innovative Afro-Cuban music fused with a variety of genres like R&B, hip-hop, reggae, electronica and jazz.

Natalia Lafourcade has developed a knack for releasing albums that her fans didn't know they were waiting for.

When Win Butler of the Canadian rock band Arcade Fire stumbled upon Bomba Esteréo playing in a church basement during the Pop Montreal International Music Festival, there was no turning back.

"¡De...spa ... cito!"

The song of the summer actually became the Song of the Year at the 18th annual Latin Grammy's held in Las Vegas on Thursday evening.

"Despacito" by Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee also picked up Record of the Year, Best Urban Fusion Performance and Best Short Term Video.

Pages