The evolution of NPR’s ‘Alt.Latino’

Bob Dylan provided the soundtrack of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement with his iconic song “The Times They Are a-Changin.” There are some that believe…
The evolution of NPR’s ‘Alt.Latino’

Alt.Latino’s Hosts Felix Contreras and Jasmine Garsd.  (Credit: Doby Photography/NPR)

Bob Dylan provided the soundtrack of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement with his iconic song “The Times They Are a-Changin.”

There are some that believe a similar movement is taking place today where times are changing for the Latino community, with that soundtrack being provided by NPR podcast “Alt.Latino,” which recently celebrated its fourth anniversary.

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Hosted by second-generation American Felix Contreras and Argentina native Jasmine Garsd, the show is based around the Latin alternative scene but is buoyed by smart discussions regarding Latino arts – film and literature – as well as insightful digressions into politics.

Basically, the show’s diverse content mirrors the modern Latin alternative genre where mashups are the norm. You’ll hear salsa, merengue, cumbia blended with hip-hop, indie or rock creating a new spirit that is invariably inspiring and empowering the Latin voice.

VOXXI talked to Contreras (inspired by Cafe Tacuba, Maldita Vencindad and Caifanes.) and Garsd (raised on Los Piojos, Los Redonditos de Ricota and Soda Stereo) about the impact and future of “Alt.Latino.”

Congratulations regarding the success of “Alt.Latino.” How did the show come about?

JG: It was something very organic that grew out of a conversation with my friend Felix. We both worked in the same division [at NPR]. Felix and I – as many Latinos – were somewhat disappointed with the Latino mediascape and were eager for something that had less of a commercial angle but more of a conversation and in-depth looks at our culture. It was both organic but also responding to a void.

FC: We started out as a music show but over the course of the four years we found the people who are listening appreciate a wider look at culture – and culture through music when we look at different aspects of it.

We do things called Guest DJs, where we invite filmmakers, writers and people from other disciplines to come talk to us, but they have to talk about their stuff through music. So the conversation is still about music but it branches out to a much wider scope of topics.

What kind of response have you received from the public?

FC: There are two pillars. There’s a guy who has been listening to us almost from day 1. He’s from Guatemala and lives in Utah. He’s a musician who offered us encouraging words as giving context and turning us onto bands. He’s coming from that generation that grew up from the rock en Español movement from the ‘90s.

The other comment that comes to mind from the website is from a 74-year-old Jewish woman from North Dakota who doesn’t know anything about Latin music. She stumbled upon our show and it’s a whole new world for her. So it’s a combination, a cross-section.

How has “Alt.Latino” evolved over the years?

JG: I think the show is always evolving. Felix and I are both really fans of always growing. About a year ago I moved to Mexico City. We both agreed it would be really cool if the show had one foot in Latin America and one foot in the U.S. So in that way the show has evolved. I wanted to pursue stories that I thought informed “Alt.Latino.”

Do you think the fact “Alt.Latino” is a podcast has helped the show?

We’re not on the air, we’re strictly a downloadable product, so that gives us a certain kind of flexibility and amount of things we can try and be ambitious about. When we look at how media is changing, it’s fascinating. I’ve been in broadcasting since 1977 and to see things change so quickly and in a way that it changed the whole course of how things are consumed, it’s so exciting.

It appears just as, say, “Soul Train” or Motown music introduced African-American culture into the mainstream during the ‘60s and ‘70s, “Alt.Latino” is currently bridging a gap between the Latino community and middle America? Do you agree?

JG: That’s so awesome. When we stared out, I thought a lot about “Soul Train.” I think, yeah, that is true. This may seem grandiose, but a lot of our show is saying, look, most Latinos and non-Latinos in media are responsible for a lot of the negative perceptions put out there.

I think it’s really cool to have a show where you say we’re more than just shaking our booty and all of these negative perceptions. We have a lot of fun on the show but we talk about serious topics. It’s really cool to carve out a space in which we are allowed to create content by our people, for our people and other people, which is really intelligent. It’s not like the dumb humor.

FC: I tell anybody who will listen, if you want to get an idea of how the Latino community is changing, listen to this music. Latin alternative like hip-hop and electronica, rock, soul and funk, mix that in with the Latin tradition because it reflects what’s going on in the Latin community.

There’s a high number of interracial marriages, mixed-raced children, people blending boundaries in terms of language use and where they get their media. It’s a mixed bag, and a very different existence from when I grew up as a Latino in the United States. I say if you want to get an idea of how the community is changing, listen to this music because the men and women who are making this music, they complete ignore boundaries, genres and any of the rules. They create the most amazing mashups of cultures. As a part-time musician, I’m envious that they would even come up with this. I wish I came up with this.

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