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Week 3 Of The 'El Tiny' Takeover: Bachata And Reggaeton Musicians


It is National Hispanic Heritage Month. And if you haven't been watching our Tiny Desk Concerts recently, what are you doing? You're missing out on some great performances. Our Latin music podcast Alt.Latino has brought amazing artists from all over Latin America and the U.S., and you can watch them perform on our website. Here's a recent clip from the Mexican vocalist Silvana Estrada.


SILVANA ESTRADA: (Singing in Spanish).

MARTÍNEZ: All right, to hear a little bit about what's coming up this week, we're joined now by the host of Alt.Latino, Felix Contreras. Welcome back.

FELIX CONTRERAS, BYLINE: Thank you very much, A. Before we get started, I got to know - have you checked out any of the shows? And what do you think so far?

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah, so my favorite part about this whole thing is seeing the space that the artists decide to occupy to do this. I'm always intrigued about what I'm going to see from Silvana Estrada's instrument workshop she seemed to be in - that was really cool all - the way to J Balvin, who was on a barge on the East River...

CONTRERAS: (Laughter) Yes.

MARTÍNEZ: ...Which - I wouldn't expect anything less out of J Balvin.

CONTRERAS: Yeah, the variety has been very, very eye-opening. And there's more to come, man. Just wait.

MARTÍNEZ: All right, so last week, we talked about three female artists. This week, it's the guys' turn.

CONTRERAS: Yeah, first up is Prince Royce. While he was born in the Bronx, he's considered royalty in the Dominican Republic. He embraced the guitar- and percussion-driven style known as bachata. Now, that's music made for couples to dance to, up close and personal. But it's also a celebration of Dominican culture and heritage. And speaking of Dominican culture, so to speak, his performance was recorded in a Dominican hair salon. Wait till you see it. We can't play it yet, but here's one of the songs that he does so you get an idea of his groove.


PRINCE ROYCE: (Singing in Spanish).

MARTÍNEZ: All right, now, I think even people who don't follow Latin music have been exposed to reggaeton at some point in their lives. I mean, they'd almost have to be avoiding it on purpose at this point. And you have some of that, too.

CONTRERAS: Yeah. Now, the question that came up during the planning was, who and how do we represent reggaeton? Because it's such a powerful force culturally and financially. And J Balvin, to me, represents what reggaeton has become, while a guy named Sech represents what it was and how it remains true to its origins. Reggaeton was born in Panama. Jamaicans brought over to work construction of the canal created these large Jamaican communities in Panama, and eventually Spanish-speaking descendants of those original canal workers began rapping over reggae tracks. Instead of in English, they did it in Spanish, and a new genre slowly developed over there.

And while the music really took off once it made its way to Puerto Rico, Afro Panamanians continued to claim it as their own, including a young guy named Carlos Isaias Morales Williams, who's also known as Sech. He was a singing street-food vendor. And what speaks to the power of his musical skills is his meteoric rise from his first single, just in 2014, to this huge acclaim among fans and fellow musicians. I mean, he's done collaborations with Bad Bunny, Daddy Yankee, Maluma - all of the big names of reggaeton. Here's a little bit of his music.


SECH: (Singing in Spanish).

MARTÍNEZ: If people don't move when they hear reggaeton, they might not be alive.

CONTRERAS: Yeah, no doubt. We're looking forward to his performance and continuing to showcase a diverse range of Latin music styles on this Tiny Desk takeover that we're calling El Tiny Takes Over Tiny Desk.

MARTÍNEZ: And we'll have Felix back next week to preview the next round of artists. Alt.Latino host Felix Contreras. Thanks a lot.

CONTRERAS: You're welcome, bro. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Felix Contreras is co-creator and host of Alt.Latino, NPR's pioneering radio show and podcast celebrating Latin music and culture since 2010.
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.