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Why Latin musician Yasser Tejeda is turning our music critic's head

ERIC DEGGANS, HOST:

Now it's time for some tunes to set just the right vibe for your Sunday. NPR's Felix Contreras is here to share what's on his new music playlist, and it happens to be one of his favorite artists.

FELIX CONTRERAS, BYLINE: Guitarist, composer, arranger and producer Yasser Tejeda from the Dominican Republic. Yasser Tejeda is from an island with very distinct traditions, and he has absorbed them. He's mastered them, and now he expands on those traditions with jazz, rock and his own musical palette. He's an innovator, and innovators always turn my head.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TU ERE' BONITA")

YASSER TEJEDA: (Singing in Spanish).

CONTRERAS: His new album is called "La Madruga," and this track is called "Tu Ere' Bonita." Now, what you're hearing is a mixture of things. His guitar parts draw on the guitar tradition of the folk style known as bachata. Now, bachata is a super popular form of music in the Latino communities these days. But Yasser Tejeda takes it back to its roots, which feature intricate guitar picking that draws on the polyrhythms of Africa. And if you listen closely, the guitar parts intertwine, producing sort of a rhythmic counterpoint.

He uses traditional bachata guitar chords but throws in some jazz now and then. And get this - he does all of that over this pretty fast merengue beat, which is completely different. It's another African-based popular form of music in the Dominican Republic. It's a deeply thought-out hybrid, expertly performed and very danceable. And check out this tasty guitar solo.

(SOUNDBITE OF YASSER TEJEDA SONG, "TU ERE' BONITA")

CONTRERAS: OK. This track is called "La Verdera."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LA VERDERA")

TEJEDA: (Singing in Spanish).

CONTRERAS: It starts with a combination of traditional chants and rhythms, and it cruises along nicely. And then this happens.

(SOUNDBITE OF YASSER TEJEDA SONG, "LA VERDERA")

CONTRERAS: Check out the hard rock voices and attitude. But to me, the rock guitar does not sound out of place. In fact, the tone and the rhythm add to the drama of the song. And this is what I mean when I talk about how he innovates on tradition. Then at the end, he does a musical shoutout to another guitarist who used Afro-Caribbean rhythms to innovate a new sound, a guy named Carlos Santana. At least, that's what it sounds like to me. Check this out.

(SOUNDBITE OF YASSER TEJEDA SONG, "LA VERDERA")

CONTRERAS: And every now and then, he even slows it down.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AMOR CONGO")

TEJEDA: (Singing in Spanish).

CONTRERAS: "Amor Congo" is the name of the track, and it's a love song wrapped in a mellow beat - and mellow being very relative compared to the rest of the record. And it also includes a guitar solo that reflects a bit of the bachata guitar tradition and parts that sound like it could be part of Fela Kuti's Nigerian band, as well as his own distinct approach to guitar playing. Check this out.

(SOUNDBITE OF YASSER TEJEDA SONG, "AMOR CONGO")

CONTRERAS: Special mention has to go to co-producer Quinn McCarthy. It's their first time working together. And on "La Madruga," they have both created a masterful musical statement that incorporates jazz, rock, folk music, traditional and contemporary African music, all on top of rhythms from both countries of the island of Hispaniola, the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AMOR CONGO")

TEJEDA: (Vocalizing).

DEGGANS: I know what I'm queuing up after the show now. Felix Contreras is the co-host of the podcast Alt.Latino from NPR Music. You can listen wherever you get your podcasts.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AMOR CONGO")

TEJEDA: (Singing in Spanish). 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.

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