This week, Alt.Latino’s playlist features five new songs stretching from Spain to Argentina: Rosalía’s sophomore album weds pop and flamenco, L.A.-based Mitre and Argentina’s Pipo Rodriguez release stadium-ready anthems, El Alfa teams up with Cardi B for a surprise dance track and Lindi Ortega covers Leonard Cohen.
This playlist (which you can listen to at the bottom of this page) is part of a series of NPR Music’s favorite Latin songs, updated weekly on Spotify. Catch our weekly thoughts and hot takes here on NPR.org.
Catalán flamenco singer Rosalía’s second album El Mal Querer is about just that — bad loves. The first two singles from the album, “Malamente” and “Pienso En Tu Mirá,” indicated a dramatic departure from the singed and dark acoustic flamenco of her 2017 debut Los Angeles, a decision that drew criticism in equal measure from both flamenco purists rejecting any modern pop influence and Romani communities that called out the Catalana for borrowing heavily from their music and dress. El Mal Querer is certainly far more flamenco than expected, but with a bolder, weirder pop tinge, the kind that incorporates the melody of Justin Timberlake’s “Cry Me A River” on “Bagdad.”
The misconception was that Rosalía could ever fully leave the old world, with all its dripping gold and jewels, furious bulerías and feminine pain. Constructed in 11 parts, El Mal Querer is in equal measure Andalusian medieval court romance and Catholic requiem mass, occupying the space between the street and the cathedral, spiritual hunger and bodily desire. In almost direct opposition to the album’s second chapter, “Que No Salga La Luna,” labelled boda (wedding) of a campfire bulería, “Maldición,” the penultimate chapter labelled cordura (sanity) is sparse floating harmonies anchored in an Arthur Russell sample and the concept of a love that causes pena que no tiene fin — shame without end. It’s a different kind of emotional release than the album’s previous physicality, desperate in its quiet. In the paradox of the oldest kind of shame, Rosalía overcomes it through the total immersion of a confession. It becomes divine. —Stefanie Fernández
Mitre, “Danzando Hacia La Luz”
Mitre is a duo from Los Angeles by way of Mexico city that is building on the solo career of Luis Mitre (an impressive first album in 2015, collaborations with Latin Alternative artists David Garza and Irene Diaz among others). Vocalist Andie Sandoval is the perfect vocal foil for his dramatic brand of pop-influenced, acoustic guitar-driven music. The pair’s new single and video is called “Danzando Hacia A La Luz” and it translates to “dancing toward the light’ with thematic references to sexual self discovery.
The track has all the carefully crafted elements of a catchy power pop ballad, which isn’t a bad thing. Especially when the message is a very musical message of inclusion. —Felix Contreras
El Alfa feat. Cardi B, “Mi Mami”
Like the great Argentine genre-bender and polyglot Jorge Luis Borges, Cardi B flows as easily in Spanish as she does in English. We’re all better for it. The Bronx Dominican that gave us “La Modelo” with Ozuna and “Bodak Yellow” twice (the Latin trap remix is earth-shattering) brings a long-teased collaboration with Dominican dembow artist El Alfa; it just wasn’t the one everyone expected.
“Mi Mami” is not a dembow track, opting instead for smoothed-over pop dancehall. The music video is just as light, with Cardi (the “mami”) in satin lingerie and bubblegum pink wig. (Who does that remind you of?) In addition to collaborations with Ozuna, Bad Bunny, J Balvin and other already-huge names in the American mainstream, Cardi has made a point to use her chart-smashing English flow to bring Spanish-language reggaeton and trap artists to the same audiences. So why not dembow, an already-huge genre in the Caribbean diaspora, too? If anyone could have taken it to the top, it’s Cardi. And she says she will. In the meantime, “Mi Mami” is fine. Now, we wait. —Stefanie Fernández
Lindi Ortega, “Suzanne”
Lindi Ortega is from Canada, of Mexican-Irish descent, lived in Nashville for a bit, and has released a string of albums since the early 2000’s that feature her sublime and expressive vocals usually set to folk- or country-tinged rock.
“Suzanne” is a devastatingly beautiful Leonard Cohen classic full of his poetic imagery and magical lyricism. Ortega doesn’t really sing it as much as she recounts it in a breathless whisper that perfectly captures the intimate nature of the song.
Lindi Ortega is absolutely an artist deserving much more recognition. This song is a great place to start. —Felix Contreras
Pipo Rodriguez, “Matador”
Argentina’s Los Fabulosos Cadillacs secured a place for themselves in rock en Español history with one song: “Matador.” What sounds like a soccer stadium chant is a well-crafted reflection on the oppression and forced disappearances that happened all too frequently in many parts of Latin America in the 1970s.
Mexican vocalist Pipo Rodriguez has replaced the military/candombe drumming pattern with cumbia on his new cover of the song. This cover is a reminder that a well-written song is forever; in the hands of a musician like Pipo Rodriguez it’s reborn. —Felix Contreras
This playlist is updated weekly.