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It's time for 'El Tiny', the NPR Tiny Desk takeover for Hispanic Heritage Month


We are in the midst of Hispanic Heritage Month. And here at NPR, one of the things that means is that it's time for El Tiny, the takeover of our Tiny Desk concert series by the Alt.Latino podcast team. Alt.Latino hosts Felix Contreras and Anamaria Sayre are here with us this morning. Welcome.

FELIX CONTRERAS, BYLINE: Good morning, Ayesha.

ANAMARIA SAYRE, BYLINE: Well, hey, Ayesha.

RASCOE: So for people that know about Tiny Desk, we have performers come to NPR's headquarters in D.C., and they do a concert for us on the fourth floor. Anamaria, it makes a big difference for, like, both the audience and the performer, just the atmosphere of these Tiny Desk Concerts, right?

SAYRE: Oh, absolutely. I think it's definitely a unique experience for any artist to perform at the Tiny Desk. You kind of strip away all of the usual things they're accustomed to having while they're performing. You know, you take away the in-ears. You take away the monitors. They have to play with a live band. They have to play for the room. So it's cool for anyone. But I do love to say that it's kind of, like, this perfect-made platform for Latin musicians because not only is it an opportunity for them to do what any artist does, come in and really show themselves in a different light, but for Latino artists, it's also an opportunity a lot of times for them to show up as their full selves, representing their country, their culture, their identity. And so we oftentimes get to see, you know, a unique exploration of an artist really being, like, this is what it felt like to jam with familia or with friends or in my barrio. And that creates a whole different kind of experience, I think, for them and for the listener.

CONTRERAS: And the experience also includes being able to turn it on. They show up at 11. We roll tape at 1. You got to turn it on at 1 p.m., when most musicians are usually just waking up, given their late night schedules, right? They have to turn it on like they've been playing for an hour in front of a full house somewhere.

RASCOE: So give us some headlines about your lineup. I hear that you have the Venezuelan group Rawayana. So, Anamaria, what should listeners know about them?

SAYRE: Oh, man, I am so excited about them. They came in and performed for us. Their Tiny Desk is actually already up on our YouTube if you want to go check it out.


RAWAYANA: (Singing in Spanish).

SAYRE: They, to me, embody what is this month for us because they're kind of part of this diaspora, actually, of young people who grew up in Venezuela and are really products of the crisis of what has been happening in Venezuela over the past few years. And so all of these artists - they're expressing themselves in really interesting, unique ways. These guys really know how to bring and pair the protest, the heartbreak with the joy. And it was beautiful to have them in our very own office.


APACHE: (Rapping) Hey, yo, let's go. Turn the light down low. (Rapping in Spanish).

RASCOE: Oh, my goodness. J Noa's another one of your guests. And this is a rapper from the Dominican Republic. Felix, you're a big fan of hers, right?

CONTRERAS: You know, I was kind of aware of her before, but Ana brought this one in. You know, she's 17 years old. This was her first performance off the island. She is an amazing performer. You know, and I'm always trying to equate things with different stuff, different styles of music. She does this rapid-fire thing in the middle of one of her tunes.


J NOA: (Rapping in Spanish).

CONTRERAS: And it reminded me of Charlie Parker in jazz. It was so fast, so fluid, so connected, so commanding of her art. I was super, super impressed. And I think the people watching - I think when people see this, they'll get completely blown away and become fans because she is a relatively new name.

RASCOE: And you've got eight concerts in all. Like, what were you looking for when you were booking these acts?

SAYRE: We're really looking for artists who can show us something that says something. I think about where we are as, like, a Latin diaspora, which is a huge thing to say. But I do think, like, we want to represent both what is happening in Latin music at the moment, what is happening culturally for us at the moment, but we also want to bring artists who are kind of, like, projecting us forward a little bit.

RASCOE: So you mentioned some of the acts, but who else is coming?

SAYRE: All right. So we got Cuban artist Alex Cuba. We have pop princess Becky G and regional (ph) artist DannyLux. We have the incredible icon, Caballota Ivy Queen.


IVY QUEEN: (Singing in Spanish).

SAYRE: And the incredible Puerto Rican rapper Villano Antillano. We are beyond excited about this lineup.

RASCOE: OK. So, I mean, it sounds like - this lineup sounds incredible. But we wanted to ask you, like, who would have been your dream picks? You know, whoever, living not living, who would you have as your Tiny Desk? Who are your dream picks? Anamaria, you go first.

SAYRE: Oh, my God. Maybe the hardest question of all time.



SAYRE: So I had to go with the king himself, Vicente Fernandez.


VICENTE FERNANDEZ: (Singing in Spanish).

SAYRE: Like, I think I would melt. I would sob. I would - I don't know. I don't know what would happen to me. But I grew up listening to him nonstop. My abuela is, like, absolutely obsessed, in love. So I think that that is genetically transferred onto me. So it would really just be incredible to hear those vocals in our room. I mean, wow.

CONTRERAS: The king of mariachi.


FERNANDEZ: (Singing in Spanish).

RASCOE: It is beautiful, beautiful music and would've been a beautiful Tiny Desk. Felix, how about you? Like, who is a dream or some dream picks for a Tiny Desk?

CONTRERAS: Okay, I'm going again like Ana with the voice. I got to go with Celia Cruz, the Cuban vocalist, everybody's favorite Cuban aunt. She had an amazing instrument.


CELIA CRUZ: (Singing) Eh, mama. Eh, mama. Eh, mama. Eh, mama.

CONTRERAS: I had a chance to see her a couple of times. And she's such - she was such a dynamic performer. Everything about her and her performance was tailor made for the Tiny Desk.


CRUZ: (Singing in Spanish).

CONTRERAS: Because it's so small. It's so intimate. And then you'd be able to feel that connection that she had with her audience in a big room, a big auditorium, a big Hollywood bowl, whatever. You'd be able to feel it the Tiny Desk in our newsroom, NPR Music newsroom. That would've been my first choice.

RASCOE: Well, that is a wide range that you guys have given us...


RASCOE: ...You know? But that is indicative of Alt.Latino, right?

CONTRERAS: It is a really wonderful honor and privilege to be able to work at programming this stuff because it's just a magic thing. People have taken to it in such an amazing way. We're frankly humbled and honored.

RASCOE: That's Felix Contreras and Anamaria Sayre. They are the host of the Alt.Latino podcast from NPR Music. And they book all the Latin music for the Tiny Desk concerts, including the third annual takeover they call El Tiny. Thank you both.

CONTRERAS: Thank you for having us.

SAYRE: Thank you.

CONTRERAS: This was fun. This was fun. Yeah.


CRUZ: (Singing in Spanish). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ayesha Rascoe
Ayesha Rascoe is the host of Weekend Edition Sunday and the Saturday episodes of Up First. As host of the morning news magazine, she interviews news makers, entertainers, politicians and more about the stories that everyone is talking about or that everyone should be talking about.
Felix Contreras
Felix Contreras is co-creator and co-host of Alt.Latino, NPR's pioneering radio show and podcast celebrating Latin music and culture since 2010.
Anamaria Artemisa Sayre
Anamaria Artemisa Sayre is co-host of Alt.Latino, NPR's pioneering radio show and podcast celebrating Latin music and culture since 2010.