Interview: Las Cafeteras [April 2017]

There is a time proven bond between music and reincarnation, of birth and rebirth, and of historical ancestry (Aztec soldiers, for example; who died in battle, were thought to be reincarnated into hummingbirds.) With jarana, requinto jarocho, zapateado, tarima, quijada, and several other instruments, Las Cafeteras, a band of six, represents both the incarnation and reincarnation, composing and performing melodies that treat life as a garden, a public square, or a simple space for celebrating the positivity that life offers.

They are a band from LA, East LA to be exact, which they consider to be the Mediterranean of the West coast: Their music is just as cosmopolitan, traditional, socially conscious, and at times political.

Las Cafeteras are children of immigrants who moved to LA and formed their own reincarnation; born of a common bond in music. I spoke to Hector, the group’s vocalist about the specifics of this reincarnation: the band, the music, their new album Tastes like LA without forgetting to chat a bit about LA itself, the global capital in the production of entertainment.

You sound pretty unique. Tell me about your sound.

“Our sound took root while taking classes at East Side Cafe in LA. There we learned Afro-Mexican music, along with other music such Arab music. Our sound comes from a mix of rhythms and instruments that we have taken a liking to.”

Your music strives to be the sound of what specifically, identity, LA itself?

“It’s the sound of our ancestry, for dancing, but also of the use of wood for making music.”

Your songs’ lyrics? How do you go about composing them?

“We compose our lyrics as a group. Someone comes up with the melody or just lyrics and we all pitch in. It takes a long time to compose our songs because of this, but it also makes it so that our songs are organic.

Our songs, influenced by poetry, celebrate the hidden stories of LA. In them we celebrate the fact that we are alive and beautiful, despite strife in LA.”

Hidden stories?

“Hidden stories… For example, take our song “El Paletero”, or the street vendor. Street vendors are denigrated and street vending even criminalized in LA. We tell their story through the song, of significant figures in LA life.

Another example is “Tiempos de Amor”. It’s a song written after visiting the Tijuana border and seeing 250 families between immigration and deportation.”

It’s fascinating that you orchestrate your troubadour-esque songs into big band music. I imagine one singer and a guitar singing such stuff.

“We compose and perform music that we consider authentic so this style, a taste of LA we consider it, is quite simply what we consider to be authentic.”

I have this feeling that you consider LA to be what Paris, Rome, Florence, Athens or Timbuktu, have been for others: a breeding ground for memorable cultural innovation.

“LA is pretty grand. LA shifts this country and the world with it.

California would like to become a sanctuary state, which we are completely on board with, as an affront to the terror and trauma that this world breeds.”

Shifts? It sounds like there is some nation building going on with this music, music for new collective thinking?

“Nations are built by hearts and minds. This is not the first time we are faced with a Trump; solidarity should be a principle in nation building. We play to build solidarity, so I guess to build a nation.”

Writer Dany Laferriere, a member of the Academie Francaise, has written that art music from the south mostly produces sublimity in the body and from the north mostly sublimity in the mind. Your music?

“Our music aims to entrance both the body and the mind. To dance together, to us, is to fight together and to build a country together and it’s most effective when it’s done wholly with the mind.”

Tell me about your new album, Tastes Like LA.

“It’s a taste of LA. Our friends have described our music as a taste of LA, and we have started to consider it a taste of LA: a mix of the rhythms that we ‘Angelenos’ love, given our roots in East LA.”