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Arts & Culture

Tiny Desk Teams Up With Alt.Latino This Month

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

We are in the middle of National Hispanic Heritage Month. And the folks at NPR Music have come up with something very special this year. They are featuring nothing but Latin music on the Tiny Desk concerts for the whole month.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TU")

MAYE: (Singing in Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Ten performances featuring eight different countries and cultures - Felix Contreras and Anamaria Sayre are here to tell us more about that. Felix and Ana, hello.

FELIX CONTRERAS, BYLINE: Hey, Lulu.

ANAMARIA SAYRE, BYLINE: Hey. Thanks for having us.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's good to have you both. Felix, I'm going to start with you. We talk about Latin music all year long. Remind us why Heritage Month is special.

CONTRERAS: I like to say every month is Hispanic Heritage Month on Alt.Latino, OK?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Fair enough.

CONTRERAS: But I also like to think of it this way. It's like as if I wear a sports coat to work every day, but then I put on a nicer jacket to go out. That's the feeling I like to put during this month.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. You get to just put a spotlight on something and, you know, make sure that people stand up and take notice. It's a good opportunity.

Ana, 10 performances, eight different countries - that sounds like a lot. But how difficult was it to narrow it down to 10 performances out of so many artists?

SAYRE: Whew, it was a challenge for sure - lots of long conversations about it - a few arguments between me and Felix, I will say.

(LAUGHTER)

SAYRE: But, you know, we tried to be pretty intentional about what demographic and what people we were kind of trying to reach out to and represent. So the data that we have on Tiny Desks actually indicates that there is an enormous Latin American audience for the show. So about 24% of our actual Tiny Desk audience is made up of Latin American countries.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Oh, cool.

SAYRE: Yeah. So actually, behind the U.S., Argentina is the second-largest country of viewership. And then we have - third is Brazil, then Mexico, then Chile, then a number of other countries. So knowing that, you know, we had this incredibly large viewership coming out of Latin America, we wanted to make sure to both represent that audience as authentically as we could and also, you know, make sure to represent artists from those countries with top viewership numbers as well.

CONTRERAS: And we also wanted to present some musical diversity. Now, over the years when I've booked Latin music for the Tiny Desk concerts, I've tried to book all types of Latin music. And we wanted a variety for this season. I mean, we booked two really big pop acts - J Balvin, who is a global superstar with Colombian roots...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "QUE LOCURA")

J BALVIN: (Singing in Spanish).

CONTRERAS: ...And Camila Cabello, who's, of course, a big pop star. She was born in Havana but raised in Miami.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DON'T GO YET")

CAMILA CABELLO: (Singing) Oh, yeah. Don't go yet. Don't go yet. What you leaving for when my night is yours? Just a little more - don't go yet.

CONTRERAS: So we have those two, like, heavyweight acts, right? But we also have styles and acts that more people should know about. For example, we have coming up this week Silvana Estrada, a Mexican folk-music vocalist who is so much more. Her video is amazing. A Venezuelan dream pop queen named Maye - she was just on. We're also going to have an Afro-Panamanian reggaeton musician named Sech. That's a wide swath across Latin music expression.

Of course, we will continue to book Latin music for Tiny Desk concerts after this. But the concentration of musicians and genres for this series had to have a feeling of an overview, like the tip of the iceberg.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I mean, were there any specific instructions to the performers about how to present their country or culture?

SAYRE: Yeah. I mean, you know, Tiny Desk producer Bobby Carter and I sit down and we have these creative calls with artists and their teams where we make sure that they come up with something or we all come up with something together that really represents themselves, their cultura, all of that kind of stuff. So for Maye in particular, she recorded hers at her favorite Venezuelan restaurant in Miami. And she used a Venezuelan folk instrument called a cuatro while she was recording. We had the Colombian band Diamante Electrico. They recorded in Bogota using all kinds of instruments, including an Afro-Colombian alegre drum.

And then, Felix mentioned already, Silvana Estrada's video, which we are all in love with. It's coming out this week. She recorded at her family's instrument workshop at her home in Veracruz, Mexico. So you really get to see, you know, it's an entire family affair for these artists. And they really brought it home for us, which was incredible to see.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Oh, my goodness. That sounds so cool. I can't wait to see these videos. So, Felix, we've been talking about some of these artists. But I know that there are more. And I want to hear, you know, what else you have in store for us.

CONTRERAS: OK. I put together what us radio-producer types call a waterfall. It's a series of musical snapshots of the artists from their recorded CDs to give you an idea of what they sound like because some of the videos are not in. In addition to the folks we mentioned, we're going to have Dominican bachata superstar Prince Royce, who recorded his video in a Dominican hair salon. This is from one of his CDs.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CARITA DE INOCENTE")

PRINCE ROYCE: (Singing in Spanish).

CONTRERAS: Argentine hip-hop and reggaeton balladeer Nicki Nicole - check this out.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "COLOCAO")

NICKI NICOLE: (Rapping in Spanish).

CONTRERAS: And, Lulu, you know me and Cuban music. Check out the soul and jazz, Santeria-influenced vocals of Cuban singer Eme Alfonso. Check this out.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OBBA")

EME ALFONSO: (Singing in Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And finally, you're calling this El Tiny takeover. What's the story behind El Tiny?

CONTRERAS: OK. Like we said, this series is extremely popular in Latin America. And when some of these musicians have been coming into play, I've heard them referred to it as El Tiny. So I started to use that hashtag on social media a while back, and it's sort of caught on. In fact, El Tiny is now a thing. We have T-shirts in the NPR shop and everything.

(LAUGHTER)

CONTRERAS: Right?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That is awesome. I'm going to have to get myself one. Felix Contreras and Anamaria Sayre from the Alt.Latino podcast. And they're part of the team that has come together to celebrate Latin music during Hispanic Heritage Month on the Tiny Desk concert series from NPR Music. Ana and Felix, thank you so much.

CONTRERAS: Thank you.

SAYRE: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ROTOS")

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