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Alt.Latino's Favorites From SXSW 2021

Vocal Vidas perform at the SXSW Music Festival showcase presented by Soy Cubana: Music from the Movie during SXSW Online on March 19, 2021.
Courtesy of SXSW
Vocal Vidas perform at the SXSW Music Festival showcase presented by Soy Cubana: Music from the Movie during SXSW Online on March 19, 2021.

Christian Pagan

Christian Pagan glides through this set with the kind of breezy energy that feels straight off the Puerto Rican beaches he coos about. The island has, of course, produced a whole slew of up-and-comers, but Pagan is fresh in his own right, dazzling with a raw magnetism and honey-butter vocals. - Anamaria Sayre

Travis Birds

The label La Buena Fortuna's showcase included madrileña singer-songwriter Travis Birds, whose velvety wail of a voice – alternatively husky and tremulous – hung in the air with phrasing that evoked both the seductive sway and concentrated potency of a flamenco gesture. There's a quiet obsession in Birds' delivery, but its dark edges are tempered by peculiarly charming subtext and touches of flamenquito pop. Accompanying herself on guitar, Birds sang "Las cinco disonante" which she said, "describes a strange moment in a person's mind" and "Claroscuro," which is "about silence and the madness it produces." Her compositional intelligence is on full display in the recently-released La Costa de los Mosquitos. - Catalina Maria Johnson

Yasser Tejeda & Palotré

After the cancellation abyss of 2020, Yasser Tejeda & Palotré are finally under the SXSW spotlight. Infusing jazz, rock and Afro-Dominican folk, the guitarist and his band featured three original songs from their album Kijombo for their Tiny Desk Meets SXSW showcase. Its name embodies the spirit of quijombo – once underground African folkloric gatherings with palo drumming – from Tejeda's native Dominican Republic. From the dreamy "Amor Arrayano," with lyrics of love and longing written by Vicente García, to the more uptempo, gagá-inspired "La Culebra," and the final "Nuestras Raíces", Tejeda flawlessly glides between catchy island riffs, jazzy licks and even hard rock power chords. - Marisa Arbona-Ruiz

Vocal Vidas

The incandescent harmonies of Vocal Vidas are as exquisite as they are powerful. In a showcase featuring clips from their film, Soy Cubana, we meet soprano and director Ana Hernandez, mezzo soprano and soloist Liette Carmenates, contralto and soloist Annia Del Toro and tenor Mayoris Mena. The beautiful rooftop scene captures their sparkling essence and clever arrangements, featuring old Cuban classics and a South African anti-apartheid anthem. They sing and sway in unison, at times playing percussion, and end with the beloved "Chan Chan." Brilliant. - Marisa Arbona-Ruiz

Villano Antillano

In 2018, Villano Antillano launched their career on SoundCloud with a diss track directed at pop star Anuel AA's homophobia. In the years since, the Bayamón-born rapper has built up a discography of EPs and singles that foreground and celebrate Puerto Rico's LGBTQ community, as the mainstream of reggaetón and Latin trap remains entrenched in homophobia and transphobia. Also at the La Buena Fortuna showcase, even among a fairly bare backdrop with no in-person audience, Villano's presence was magnetic, inviting in a new era of urgent, powerful perreo that, it seems clear, will shake the dust off this industry. - Stefanie Fernández

Dayramir Gonzalez

Celebrated by legends like Chucho and Bebo Valdés, pianist Dayramir Gonzalez has operated within the long lineage of Cuban jazz and son since going professional at 16. During SXSW, he performed pieces from the score he composed for the short film Soy Cubana, in a showcase with the film's subject, Santiago de Cuba-based a cappella group Vocal Vidas. Similar to Vocal Vidas, Gonzalez's score mixes Cuban tradition and modern innovation, incorporating Afro-Cuban tradition and Cuban classical style in his compositions; in the score, he mimics the rhythm of batá drums with the piano. The music is something altogether new, but the celebration in his technique is intrinsically Cuban. - Stefanie Fernández


The Mexican band Kinky takes the idea of a "virtual showcase" to un otro nivel – playing with funky lighting and offbeat camera work, the group creates an ethereal visual experience to match its deviant sound. The scene-cuts and exposed equipment, existing in stark contrast to the typical set, easily pair with the band's alt-electronic beats. There is an air of playfulness across the tracks that communicates a clear message from the Monterrey-born group. - Anamaria Sayre

Francisca Valenzuela

Indie pianist and singer Francisca Valenzuela lit up the Latin Heat x Criteria Entertainment showcase. In a memorable and moving solo performance, the American-Chilean artist wields a magnetic sense of self and feminine power. - Marisa Arbona-Ruiz

Ruido Rosa

Cloaked in a deep red light at The Devil in the Woods showcase (a record label rapidly rising to the top of Mexican indie rock), Mexico City-based quartet Ruido Rosa's performance of "Solo," "Casa de Naipes," and "Vértigo," from 2019's Fragmentos EP, was instrumentally airtight, glittering with shades of glam, post-punk and modern indie. I hope someday soon we can feel the guitars crunch underfoot as Alejandra Moreno snarls, "Tu casa de naipes cae a mis pies." - Stefanie Fernández

Petite Amie

Mexico City's Petite Amie showed a tight, accomplished delivery of their music that belies a band formed in 2020, no doubt due to being the alternate project of two veteranos bassists of la capital's fertile rock scene: Carlos Medina (Little Jesus) and Santiago Fernandez (The Plastics Revolution), joined by Aline Terrein (vocals), Isabel Dosal (vocals), and Jacobo Velazquez (guitar). As part of the excellent Devil in the Woods showcase, Petite Amie played "Refugio" and "El Delirio," highlighting their ability to create polished psych-pop-tropicalia. - Catalina Maria Johnson


Melding folky vocals with lo-fi beats, Brazilian band Tuyo creates a rich sound that seems to channel and honor its beautiful, biodiverse homeland. With delicate notes and controlled delivery, the group's intimate orchestration incubates an unguarded and grand new album. - Anamaria Sayre


Singer and songwriter Yendry sashays with aplomb through a variety of Caribbean genres, delivered with loads of attitude and flair, all propelled by a supple voice that soars with brightly colored island grooves. Informed by her Dominican roots, at times reminiscent of bachata, other times turning reggaetón-ish, it's always clear where Yendry is from. But you can never predict where she might go. - Catalina Maria Johnson

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Anamaria Sayre is a multimedia producer for NPR Music with a focus on elevating Latinx stories and music. She's the producer for Alt.Latino, NPR's pioneering radio show and podcast celebrating Latin music and culture, and the curator of Latin artists at the Tiny Desk.