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Felix Contreras

Draco Rosa.
Courtesy of the artist
Draco Rosa.

I have been trying to find some idea that ties together my list of 20 albums that stood out in 2021 — on the surface they are all so disparate. There is Arturo O'Farrill's bold Latin jazz, and Salt Cathedral's lush electronic meditation on Colombia. ÌFÉ explores ancient future spiritualism, while Roxane Amed, Sofia Reí, and Susana Baca each explore the sound of the female voice through their own cultural lenses. From The Meridian Brothers' latest avant-garde release from Colombia to IKOQWE's Angolan-Portuguese, there are so many musical paths to follow. Taking it in as a whole didn't make any sense until a wise friend suggested: "It's you. You tie it all together." He's right. I am constantly looking for a sound I have never heard before, and this year it happened more than it usually does. The expanse of creativity blew my mind, and now I wait until next year!

Top 20 Albums of 2021

▶ LISTEN ON SPOTIFY

• Arturo O'Farrill, ...dreaming in lions...
• Gabriel Alegria Afro-Peruvian Sextet, Social Distancing
• Omar Sosa and Seckou Keita, SUBA
• Draco Rosa, Sound Healing 1:11
• Roxana Amed, Ontology
• Berta Moreno, Tumaini
• Xenia Rubinos, Una Rosa
• Meridian Brothers, Conjunto Media Luna, Paz En La Tierra
• IKOQWE, The Beginning, the Medium, the End and the Infinite
• The Los Sundowns, The Los Sundowns
• Susana Baca, Palabras Urgentes
• ÌFÉ, 0000+0000
• Sofia Rei, Umbral
• Salt Cathedral, CARISMA *isolation mixes*
• Cultura Profética, Sobrevolando Instrumental
• Various Artists, It's a Good, Good Feeling: Fania Records (The Singles)
• Various Artists, Changüí: The Sound of Guantánamo
• Cande y Paulo, Cande y Paulo
• C. Tangana, El Madrileño
• Bola Sete, Samba In Seattle: Live In The Penthouse 1966-1968

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Felix Contreras is co-creator and host of Alt.Latino, NPR's pioneering radio show and podcast celebrating Latin music and culture since 2010.