National Public Radio’s (NPR) “Festivo Alt.Latino” with Felix Contreras and Cantigas: A Gift of Latin Music for All

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By Marisa Arbona-Ruiz

There is nothing quite like the breathtaking melodies, infectious rhythms and passion of Latin music to raise the energy of a concert hall. Or a radio show. And when performed from the hearts of musicians centered on joy and familia, their spark becomes contagious.

Felix Contreras, host of NPR’s Alt.Latino, program producer Suraya Mohammed and DC’s own Cantigas collaborated on magical Christmas concert that reflects some of the many diverse sounds of Latino music. “While it’s not alternative Latin music,” says Felix, “Cantigas’s programs showed me how to draw on tradition but at the same time, to do something unexpected and different. Marisa Arbona-Ruiz and Artistic Director Diana Saéz provided the musical selections and the history behind the music. So, the actual show was this very cool, coming together of entertaining, historical storytelling around music that is as much inspirational as it is beautiful–which is what’s behind every Cantigas show anyways.”

For Felix, a long-time conga player in Latin music bands, the show was profound. He cites that “the singing, the arrangements, the melodies, and the stories were all so beautiful and perfectly executed. You can actually hear the joy that was created in the room; the singers’ energy rubbed off so much on the audience and me that it was impossible NOT to have a good time. That kind of great energy happens in only the rarest of occasions when you’re recording live music.”

Yet, what is rare to this radio show host and musician (who even joined us on congas!), is to Cantigas the very essence of its core. Joy, vibrant energy and beautiful music is what keeps Cantigas singers and loyal audiences coming back for more. In fact, the DC area is blooming as a hub for Latino musical exchanges, in part because of the work that NPR’s Alt.Latino and Cantigas do. Cantigas was started by Diana Sáez to fill a void. “Despite the many choral groups in DC, I saw a lack of knowledge about music from Latin America; its diverse musical traditions, the music history and quality of its composers,” she says. “Talented local singers from Spain and all over Latin America began to join us, bringing a treasure trove of music with them, and important concerts and international collaborations followed. It is a great joy to share this concert with a broader audience on NPR’s Alt.Latino."

Music is a universal language; it touches the soul. We give thanks for your support of Cantigas and invite you to enjoy and share this live concert program. The entertaining presentation of stories and beautiful songs in Spanish, English, Portuguese, Nahuatl (Aztec), Quechua (Inca) and Ladino would make a lovely addition to any holiday celebration.

Happy holidays, felices fiestas to all, and mil gracias to the NPR familia.

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