Felix Contreras

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During the course of their performance behind the desk, the four core members of LADAMA — Lara Klaus, Daniela Serna, Mafer Bandola and Sara Lucas — had a chance to display their individual cultural and musical roots as part of an engaging and mesmerizing whole. Represented in glorious musical virtuosity are Brazil, Colombia and Venezuela, with a dash of New York City thrown in just to make it interesting.

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SUSAN DAVIS, HOST:

Memorial Day signals the start of summer - slower days, vacations and a more laid-back attitude toward life. But for our friends at NPR Music's Alt.Latino podcast, summer heats up literally and figuratively. Host Felix Contreras is here to explain.

Hey, Felix.

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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Andrea Cruz brought a little bit of Puerto Rico with her when she took her place behind the Tiny Desk. It was present by way of the flag she hung up on the shelves, as well as in the lyrics of the songs and the style of music she expresses herself with.

Years ago, Gina Chavez was a SXSW discovery for me: I'd tracked her down at some unofficial showcase and was immediately mesmerized by the Austin singer-songwriter. Since then, many good things have come her way, and she's developed into a major artist. On this Tiny Desk Family Hour video, recorded live at Austin's Central Presbyterian Church during SXSW last week, you can hear for yourself the voice that caught my attention back then — and has never let it go in the years since.

Two South American countries have been in the news a lot lately. Venezuela's economy has collapsed in a political crisis and in Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, the country's new far-right president, has made racist comments and been accused of stoking anti-gay violence. For musicians in both those countries, the news is affecting their work.

Something happens when you get a chance to see Afro-Cuban percussionist Pedrito Martinez perform. First of all, his smile radiates. It's hard to imagine someone happier than he is to make music in front of people; and as we saw during his turn behind Bob Boilen's desk, he mesmerizes with this almost otherworldly talent on congas. His hands can be a blur because they move so quickly. To the untrained eye, it's hard to see exactly what he is doing to draw out the sounds he does from his drums.

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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Saxophonist Miguel Zenón is a big thinker — that much is clear from his recorded output, with its deep and inspiring connection to the folk traditions of his native Puerto Rico. But you also get that sense from his turn behind the Tiny Desk, where we can watch the concentration on his face and those of his adventurous band, the Spektral Quartet. This is life-affirming music with curious twists and turns, expertly performed by amazingly talented musicians.

Cuba is known as much for their pianists as their percussionists — you'll see why with this performance.

Watching this performance is to witness a spell being cast, note-by-note. Liniker e os Caramelows (Liniker and the Caramelows) are from Brazil but steeped in the tradition of soul from here in the U.S. They started their turn behind the desk with the ballad "Calmô," a testament to the power of slow songs dripping with soulful emotion. It was a bold statement of just who they are as a band and what they stand for.

Cuban pianist Alfredo Rodríguez gave our office audience a very quick lesson on why pianists from that island nation are so impressive: they treat the piano as the percussion instrument it is. Rodríguez immediately let fly with an intense flurry of notes that were as melodic as they were rhythmic.

It's appropriate that the pioneering Mexican band Café Tacvba (Tacuba) start its set with "Olita del Altamar" ("Waves from the High Seas") from the group's 2012 album El Objeto Antes Llamado Disco. It's essentially an incantation of the magic that transpired during their performance behind Bob Boilen's desk.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Let's remember this morning how Havana sounded back in the 1950s and 1960s.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

There's so much joy in the sound of the Hammond organ, especially for those of us of a certain age. Hearing it can transport you to the early '70s, when every rock band seemed to have one in its arsenal: The Allman Brothers, Santana, Deep Purple. In the hands of true masters — like the late Billy Preston and the very-much-alive Booker T. Jones — the organ can be a melodic, funky rhythm machine.

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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

It's been quite the week. Many people have taken to social media to express not only their opinions of recent political news but also a sense of emotional exhaustion. Alt.Latino's Felix Contreras joins me now. Felix, welcome. And are you feeling exhausted?

Musicians from Latin America are starting to call it "El Tiny."

The popularity of NPR Music's Tiny Desk Concerts from All Songs Considered has spread far and wide. One group of musicians told me about a bar in Montevideo, Uruguay that had "El Tiny" playing on TV monitors on a loop.

Some folks around the NPR Music office said they felt an almost spiritual connection to Erykah Badu during her visit to the Tiny Desk. And that was before she and her band even played a single note. It came from the waft of earthly scents that followed in her wake, to the flowing dreads and clothes that hung on her like robes.

When the 10 members of Tower of Power were in place behind Bob Boilen's desk, strategically positioned around the band's famous five-piece horn section, their first collective blast three beats into the sound check literally made the video crew jump. It was more a force of nature than a sound, and an impressive display of the "five fingers operating as one hand" concept of band cohesiveness.

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Lalah Hathaway comes from royalty: Her late father Donny Hathaway's voice was crucial for my generation, setting the bar for inspired, old-school soul singing. But living in that kind of shadow can also be a burden, robbing the offspring of an identity apart from that of the famous parent.

Joe Jackson, patriarch of the legendary Jackson family, which included Michael and Janet Jackson, has died, the estate of Michael has confirmed in a statement. No cause of death was given, though he had reportedly been diagnosed with cancer.

Officially, Joe Jackson was a band manager, taking five of his sons from a locally celebrated pop vocal group in Gary, Ind., in the mid-1960s to international acclaim, acting as the launchpad to superstardom for his son Michael. Their paths, however, would be revealed through the decades as ones paved in checkers.

There is a sonic revolution happening in Cuba these days. A new generation of musicians are taking the training they received in Cuba's fabled classical music academies to new heights by incorporating not just jazz, but hip-hop, funk and any manner of experimental music. Yissy García and Bandancha may be the best example of that vanguard.

Colombian pop star Juanes and Chilean singer Mon Laferte recently wrapped up a sold-out tour of the United States, which (lucky for us) included a stop at the Tiny Desk.

When I first heard ÌFÉ I was stopped in my tracks. Literally. I pulled the car over and just listened.

I recognized Afro-Cuban drumming and chanting, but it was coming at me with electronic furnishings that made their drums and vocals sound like a futuristic spiritual ceremony.

Fifty years ago, Johnny Cash performed at Folsom State Prison in Folsom, Calif. The January 1968 concert and live album it produced, At Folsom Prison, helped revitalize Cash's career, inspiring him to testify for prison reform and cementing his reputation as a voice for the downtrodden.

Jorge Drexler is a poet with a gift for song. The Uruguayan singer-songwriter, like the iconic Latin American lyricists of the past (Mercedes Sosa, Victor Jara and Silvio Rodriguez, to name just a few), has that rare ability to surround multi-layered prose with music that lends an even deeper resonance to the words.

Lara Bello occupies the space between genres where magic happens. Born in Spain, she was raised with not only Spanish traditions like flamenco and canto but also pop music and jazz. The instrumentation she assembled for her Tiny Desk reflects that elastic approach to genre: acoustic classical guitar, clarinet, violin and a percussionist who didn't keep time so much as color the proceedings.

Jenny and the Mexicats is a discovery from South by Southwest a few years ago that I haven't been able to get out of my mind, and with good reason: The band's high energy shows are unforgettable, as is its sound. Mixing flamenco, originally from southern Spain, with Jenny Ball's jazz trumpet background and a little bit of cumbia has created their one-of-a-kind musical identity.

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