Beginning 10 p.m. Sunday, North Texas fans of alternative Latin music won’t have to wait for the occasional tour from the likes of Mexico’s Cafe Tacuba or Brazil’s Os Mutantes to get their fix. That’s when adult-album-alternative public station KXT-FM/91.7 begins broadcasting The Latin Alternative, a weekly, syndicated, hour-long, English-language dive into rock, indie-rock, electronic, and hip-hop from the Spanish and Portuguese-speaking parts of the planet.
KXT is the first station in Texas to air the program where you can expect to hear everything from established artists such as Argentina’s Los Fabulosos Cadillacs and Soda Stereo, Mexico’s Julieta Venegas, Puerto Rico’s Calle 13, and California’s Los Lobos mixed in with newer faces such as Chile’s Ana Tijoux and Mkrni (pronounced “macaroni”), Uruguay’s Santé Les Amis, and America’s Diego Garcia.
“It’s some of the coolest and most exciting music in the world,” says Josh Norek, a former member of the Spanish-language Jewish hip-hop outfit Hip-Hop Hoodios who also spent some time as an exec with Nacional Records, a label devoted to Latin alternative and co-founded the annual Latin Alternative Music Conference. “If you like alternative music, you’ll like it.”
Norek, who’s now president of Bay Area-based Regalias Digitales, a firm that collects royalties for Spanish-language performers, co-hosts the show with Ernesto Lechner, a contributing writer for the Los Angeles Times and author of Rock en Español: The Latin Alternative Rock Explosion.
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They’ve been doing the show since 2009 when Norek was approached by WEXT, a public radio station in his hometown of Albany, N.Y., about spinning some Latin alternative the next time he came home to visit family. “They said why don’t you do a Latin rock show for gringos?,” Norek recalls. “We did one show and got a very good response. They said ‘Would you like to have a regular show?’ I said, not if I have to come back to Albany.”
WEXT agreed Norek could record the show from California and that’s when he recruited Lechner to help. “At first, it was an excuse to share a drink and play our favorite music but then, after a year, we began getting inquiries [from other stations],” Norek says.
Philadelphia’s WXPN and Los Angeles’ KCSN came on board and now the show is on 35 stations, from Quebec to San Francisco.
Texas has long been on Norek’s radar for expansion. “We had been wondering about Texas because, after California, it’s the most Latino market in the country,” he says.
KXT is an obvious choice for the show as Norek says programmer Mark Abuzzahab and music coordinator/morning host Gini Mascorro are fans of the genre. “When I was at Nacional and Diego Garcia’s Laura came out , they jumped all over it.”
“When Josh and Ernesto would be on [the syndicated radio show] World Cafe, I always enjoyed when they were on and we played a lot of what they play,” says Abuzzahab. “It broadens the mix of the music we play and it adds an extra voice to the station.”
He also says that having the popular show from DJ Paul Slavens -- who plays everything from opera to modern rock -- as a lead-in, makes perfect sense for The Latin Alternative.
Though Norek says North Texas has been slower on the uptake for Latin alternative -- “when I was working [at a label], Austin would sell more than San Antonio, Houston, and Dallas combined” -- he thinks the potential is there.
“Dallas is more dispersed so it’s more of a challenge,” he says. “The most important thing to relay is that it’s music that crosses borders and you don’t need to be Latino or Spanish-speaking to enjoy this music. We have as many non-Latino fans as Latino fans, if not more. And then what we do is bring context to the music.”