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The Best Music From 2020


Well, the new year has finally arrived, people. And our friends at NPR Music have been looking back, though, at songs and albums released in 2020. And at least musically speaking, some good things did come out of this otherwise horrible year. And Felix Contreras is here to talk about some of the highlights he heard on the Alt.Latino podcast.


FELIX CONTRERAS, BYLINE: Hey. What's up, Lulu?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Things are good because I'm about to hear good things that came out of 2020, and I feel like that's a gift.

CONTRERAS: Yes, it is.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: (Laughter) So tell me about the music.

CONTRERAS: OK. You know, curiously, some of the most striking music I heard was made in 2019 before the world changed. And it was released in 2020. And it ended up being a source of comfort, even if they did not specifically address the worries and concerns during that initial lockdown. And one of those records was "Miss Colombia" by Lido Pimienta.


LIDO PIMIENTA: (Vocalizing).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Why was this a source of comfort to you?

CONTRERAS: I don't know about anybody else, but I really needed some good music to help me cope with all that stuff that was going on in those first few months of the lockdown of the pandemic. And Lido's album was just such a fantastic expression of her own specific artistic vision. She lives in Toronto. She's originally from Colombia. And this record is one of these kinds of records that just crossed demographics. Latinos liked it. Non-Latins liked it - Spanish speakers, non-Spanish speakers. It's such a strong record. This is a track called "Nada."


PIMIENTA: (Singing in Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I mean, powerful words - I - you know, I'm not afraid if I die tomorrow, the lyrics say. I mean, that does seem like - to speak to the moment.

CONTRERAS: There were a couple of albums last year that were like that, where they were made with a specific idea in mind, and it did speak to the moment that we were all living through. One record that was definitely made speaking to the issues that were happening earlier in the year was Chilean rapper Ana Tijoux. Now, her whole body of work is about defiance and challenging inequities of all kinds through music. And the title of her single that came out in late spring was called "Antifa Dance." And that pretty much says everything that's been on her mind.


ANA TIJOUX: (Rapping in Spanish).

CONTRERAS: You know, during an Instagram Live interview I did with her in November, she explained that the mass demonstrations in the U.S., the things that were taking place about social injustice and police abuse - they echoed much of the history of Latin America. A lot of the same things happened over the decades in Latin America. And this track, "Antifa Dance," is a musical fist raised in the air.


TIJOUX: (Rapping in Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And it's a liberation anthem. We should liberate this whole world, the lyrics say. Felix, your podcast Alt.Latino featured your choices for favorite albums and favorite songs of 2020. I mean, did you go through all this music yourself?

CONTRERAS: (Laughter) I wish I could've, but I didn't. It's just almost physically impossible. I had help from our frequent contributors Catalina Maria Johnson, Marisa Arbona-Ruiz and Stefanie Fernandez. They each have their own tastes and experiences, and it was reflected in their choices. And if you don't mind, right now I want to do a quick rundown of some of the other music that caught our attention. There was so much stuff to appreciate.

Mexican vocalist Natalia Lafourcade released a gorgeous album of Mexican son jarocho, playing tribute to her roots in Mexico. It was called "Canto Por Mexico, Vol. 1."



CONTRERAS: Avant-garde merengue artist Rita Indiana released her first album in 10 years.


RITA INDIANA: (Singing in Spanish).

CONTRERAS: She challenges gender and social norms in her native Dominican Republic on the album "Mandinga Times." And Bad Bunny - you've heard of him...


CONTRERAS: ...Released two albums.


BAD BUNNY: (Singing in Spanish).

CONTRERAS: We can do an entire show on his musical genius, and we have. And someday, we'll do it again. And The Mavericks are a band from Miami that has been a favorite on the Americana folk scene. And it's led by a Cuban American vocalist, Raul Malo. And they released their first all-Spanish album called "En Espanol." It's a gorgeous record.


THE MAVERICKS: (Singing in Spanish).

CONTRERAS: And a personal favorite of mine - I'm a big fan of Cuban musician X Alfonso. And he once again pushes the boundaries of Cuban music on the album "Inside." This track is called "Cambio." Check this out.


X ALFONSO: (Singing in Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Such interesting music.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: So NPR Music starts thinking about the end of the year around October. There are lots of meetings for the lists and for the design of the presentation on your website. So knowing that this starts so early, were there any artists that released albums in December that you were not able to cover?

CONTRERAS: You know what's funny - is that every year, there's always one or two records that slip in once everything's set in place. And all of NPR Music's, like, pulling their hair, like, oh, my God. What are we going to do? But what ends up happening is that we move that over to the next year. And one of those records was released by the Colombian American vocalist Kali Uchis. She's one of a handful of female vocalists from Latin America exploring neo-soul. And she released her first all-Spanish album, and it's gorgeous. And it's already in the running for the best album of 2021 on my list. It's called "Sin Miedo (Del Amor Y Otros Demonios)." This is a track called "De Nadie."


KALI UCHIS: (Singing in Spanish). (Singing) Please don't take it personal if I don't check up here through the phone.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I love Kali Uchis. I also love this thing of speaking in Spanish and English.

CONTRERAS: And it's so organic. It doesn't feel fake or put on. It's just the way she and the rest of us talk. It's a great, great record.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Felix Contreras is the host of the podcast Alt.Latino from NPR Music. You can go to their website for the full list of Latin music highlights that you heard today. And you can go to to see their favorites from every genre you can possibly imagine.

Thank you so much.

CONTRERAS: Thank you, Lulu.


KALI UCHIS: (Singing) Every emotion - I felt that... 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.