Alt.Latino's New Music Discoveries At SXSW 2019

Mar 17, 2019

The musical leg of SXSW 2019 has taken over Austin, Texas, once again and Alt.Latino's Felix Contreras has been standing amidst the food stands, venues and musical equipment cases to check out all the best Latin talent making noise.

"South by Southwest is becoming more important for Latin music every year," Contreras says. "More and more bands from Latin America, Spain and the U.S are coming here. I've been coming for 10 years and I used to be able to see most of the bands I needed. Now, its impossible."

Every year, Contreras splits his trip between checking in with Latin talent he's been following and making new musical discoveries. This time, Contreras caught up with Silvina Moreno, an Argentinian singer with a "smart, witty, complete engaging pop sound" who accompanies herself on a decked-out washboard in concert, Spanish guitarist Twanguero and flamenco artist Diego Guerrero, who marries the genre with folk and electronic. "The way he is opening up the tradition to other influences without losing its authenticity is amazing," Contreras says of Guerrero.

After seeing her live, Contreras says Cuban standout Eme Alfonso's show is "deeply influenced by SanterĂ­a, but performed with a funk R&B and jazz fusion edge," while the band Cimafunk is "a perfect mash up of Cuban music and James Brown with a big dose of Parliament Funkadelic."

Listen to the entire interview at the audio link.

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As you have probably heard by now, the annual South by Southwest music festival has been going on all week in Austin, Texas, and pretty much wraps up later today. Standing amidst the vans and music equipment cases as the bands pack up is Felix Contreras of the Alt.Latino podcast. He's been there all week. And we asked him to check in with us about who he saw and what he liked.

Felix, hey.

FELIX CONTRERAS, BYLINE: Hey, Lulu. How are you?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I think you've probably been eating very well down there. I am so jealous.

CONTRERAS: A little bit - just a little bit.


CONTRERAS: I try not to overdo it.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I've seen your Instagram full of tacos.

CONTRERAS: (Laughter).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. Tell me about what it's been like down there.

CONTRERAS: OK. So one of the things - you mentioned food. Well, food and energy - I have to pace myself because South by Southwest is becoming more important for Latin music every year. More and more bands from Latin America, Spain and the U.S. are coming here. I've been coming for about 10 years, and I used to be able to see most of the bands I needed to see. Now it's impossible to see them.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. How do you decide which bands to see?

CONTRERAS: I have a little thing. Every year, it changes. I either revisit bands that I've been following or I do strictly discoveries - go out and see bands I know nothing about. And this year, it was a mix of things. The first thing I did was catch up with the vocalist from Argentina that I saw at the Latin Alternative Music Conference in New York a few years ago. Her name is Silvina Moreno. And back then, she had one album out. She was just getting started. Now she's about to release her third album. She's refined her performances. She's much more confident. And she found a really nice place for herself with smart, witty and completely engaging pop sound that still sounds so personal. Now, check this out. This is a track from her album called "Sofa." It's called "Cuidame" or "Take Care Of Me."


SILVINA MORENO: (Singing in Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, you know me. This is exactly...

CONTRERAS: (Laughter).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...The kind of music that I love. So tell me more about her.

CONTRERAS: She is from Buenos Aires. She's a graduate of the Berklee School of Music in Boston. While she was living here in the U.S., she became obsessed with different kinds of music made here, like jazz and folk music. And she even taught herself how to play banjo. And she sometimes uses the texture of the banjo in her music. And get this. She also plays a washboard - the kind of old-fashioned washboard used in zydeco. I've seen her twice here so far, and she accompanies herself on this decked-out washboard. It's very clever, very musical. She has a new album coming out in the fall, so you got to keep your eye out for that one.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. And what is next? What else should we have on our radar?

CONTRERAS: You know, each year, different countries come here to promote their cultural products, their music - Brazil, Puerto Rico, Colombia, even Uruguay. Spain has always had a large presence here. And the variety of styles coming from Spain is mind-blowing. I'm going to tell you about another artist I saw. It's a flamenco guitarist named Diego Guerrero. Now, I don't want to be cliche and go with flamenco. But the way he is opening up the tradition to other influences without losing its authenticity is amazing. He uses jazz, salsa, bits of electronic. Check out this track. It's called "Primavera."


DIEGO GUERRERO: (Singing in Spanish).

CONTRERAS: It's from his debut album called "Vengo Caminando." It's a traditional flamenco vocal approach, but the guitar is finger-picked, like you would hear in American folk music. And those subtle, genre-busting touches really make the difference for me. Check this out.


GUERRERO: (Singing in Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So beautiful - we have time for only two more artists, so narrow it down (laughter).

CONTRERAS: OK. Once again, Lulu, the Cubans come to Austin to shake things up. This year, Alt.Latino - we were able to present a total of eight bands and two different showcases here. And one of the bands was a Cuban vocalist named Eme Alfonso. Now, she comes from a musically prolific family in Cuba. And she's been performing since she was a little girl. Last year, she released her first album that's available in the U.S. It's called "Voy," as in I am going. This is a track called "El Bote."


EME ALFONSO: (Singing in Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Oh, I love that.


ALFONSO: (Singing in Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I love all these women. It's great.

CONTRERAS: You know, South by Southwest is a chance to get to see these bands live. And this track really only hints at the power of her live show, which I can only describe as deeply influenced by Santeria but performed with a funky R&B and jazz fusion edge. It was so powerful and almost a spiritual experience, Lulu. It was so magnificent.


ALFONSO: (Singing in Spanish).

CONTRERAS: She told me she's planning to tour in the U.S. soon. So you'll get a chance to experience her live show soon.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: OK. All right, one more left. What did you see?

CONTRERAS: OK. I didn't really see this next band so much as experience it.


CIMAFUNK: (Singing in Spanish).

CONTRERAS: Cimafunk is the artistic name of Erick Iglesias Rodriguez. And the best way to describe him and his band - it's a perfect mashup of Cuban music and James Brown with a big dose of Parliament and Funkadelic. And you get a hint of how powerful his vision is from this track from his album called "Terapia."


CIMAFUNK: (Singing in Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I am dancing in my seat and am envious of...

CONTRERAS: Oh, my gosh.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...All the adventures you've had down there. All right. Felix Contreras is our man on the ground at the annual South by Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas. You can hear more about the Alt.Latino discoveries when they publish their podcast this week. Tune in. Felix Contreras, thank you.

CONTRERAS: Thank you, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Bring home some tacos.

CONTRERAS: (Laughter) I'll put them in my bag.


CIMAFUNK: (Singing in Spanish). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.