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Old School, New School: Latin Bands Mix Traditional Sounds With Rock, Rap And Electronica

A Spanish DJ gives the steel drum electroshock dance therapy. A Cuban rapper invokes the ghost of a past crooner. A German living in Chile adds Dominican flavor to the King of Pop. An Argentine group plays video games while strumming traditional folk.

On last week's show, we featured several bands that sound quite similar to the indie-rock heard here in the U.S. This week, we travel from Spain to Argentina, with stops in the Caribbean, Brazil and Peru, to hear from acts that are going with a different approach: incorporating traditional Latin music and instruments into their work.

Of course, we weren't able include every country or every artist. Which is why we continue the discussion on our blog, where you'll find other fascinating artists who seamlessly stitch together classic sounds and new styles -- among them Rita Indiana, Charanga Cakewalk and Descember Bueno.

We're counting on you to add your suggestions to our list, too. What bands that combine the old and the new are you listening to and loving? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

FM Tan Sexy

We're excited about this new song by Spanish DJ El Guincho, which combines electronica with steel-drum beats. El Guincho has been having a well-publicized love affair with Caribbean rhythms and instruments for some time now. He released this single last week as a preview of his upcoming album, Pop Negro.

Se Te Cayó el Tabaco

The Cuban rapper's entire album, X Moré, is a tribute to 1950s Cuban singer Benny Moré. It's some of his older work, but the record left an impression on us. In "Se te cayó el tabaco" (You dropped your tobacco), he effortlesly melds his own lyrics with Benny Moré's voice.

Beat It [Merengue]

Merengue is heard throughout Latin America, but it was born in the Dominican Republic. Señor Coconut is actually a German guy who has lived in Chile for a decade or so, but his music is very Caribbean-inspired. He and his group always perform these remakes of pop music in more traditional styles remixed with electronica.

Asa Branca

Asa Branca is a white bird from northeastern Brazil, as well as a traditional Brazilian song, here performed in a style known in forró. Forró is a Brazilian music style with rural roots; it's extremely popular in the northeast part of that country and heavy on the accordion, triangle and zabumba drum. If you recognize one of the voices on this song, that's none other than David Byrne.

Africa Lando

This 2009 album made Novalima one of Felix Contreras' favorite new bands. The song is a tribute to lando, a form of Afro-Peruvian music which involves the beating of a "cajon," a large wooden box which the player sits on while he or she plays.

Primavera en La Selva

Chicha is a Peruvian alcoholic beverage (also popular in other Latin-American countries) made of fermented maize. It's also a style of music: a psychedelic, funky '70s sound which incorporates synthesizers and surf guitar. Interestingly, Chicha Libre is a group from Brooklyn, N.Y., which is revamping the chicha sound. The name "Chicha Libre" is a play on words -- it means "free chicha music," but it also means "free chicha drink," a concept we here at Alt.Latino can get behind.

Grand Guignol

Bajofondo is a collective of musicians from Argentina and Uruguay who mix tango and electronica. I know some listeners are going to ask us why we didn't we pick Gotan Project -- another similar band which has more recent music. I like Gotan, but "Grand Guignol" is one of my all-time favorite songs. Although the violins, accordions and jolts are a tribute to tango, it's so fast and danceable, I find an almost Bollywood quality to it.


The Argentine band CLDSCP (it stands for caleidoscopio) is doing something really interesting: It mixes charango with electronic beats. Charango looks like a tiny guitar and is traditionally made with an armadillo's back; it's especially popular in Bolivia. On its own, the Charango always sounds so sad, and the singer's voice in this song is such a fragile falsetto. One of our Music Team members compared it to Portishead.

Cajita De Barro

We can't get over the incredibly sweet "Cajita de Barro," or "Little Mud Box." This young Mexican musician's work is bursting with a melancholy that reminds us a lot of French musician and composer Yann Tiersen (he composed the soundtrack for Amélie). His music is fresh, yet true to Mexican folk traditions.


This is actually a new song from the San Francisco band's upcoming album. We love this song, which feels like The Clash, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, The Brian Seltzer Orchestra and Tito Puente rolled into one. It also happens to be a feminist anthem protesting violence against women. Throughout the song, the lead singer repeats what his grandpa once told him: "Around here, whoever beats a woman gets his cojones taken off." Nice.