Las Cafeteras Cross Musical and Geographical Borders With Their Sound

Categories: today

Piero F. Giunti
The phrase "Yo no creo en fronteras!" has become the unofficial mission statement for East LA's eclectic folk outfit Las Cafeteras. The line from their rabble-rousing hit "La Bamba Rebelde" is an apt description of how cavalier they are about crossing stylistic and geographical borders with their music. This year alone, they've dabbled in mainstream pop, opened for Colombian superstar Juanes in Miami, and did a live collaboration with the LA Philharmonic. With every new step they take, the title of their 2012 release, It's Time, feels more and more prophetic.

Before they became a band, the members of Las Cafeteras were students. "We were all friends, family, activists and organizers who knew each other before we even started playing music," says Denise Carlos, who once trained as a dancer.

In the mid-2000s, Carlos, Leah Gallegos, Annette Torres, Daniel French, and brothers David and Hector Flores studied the Veracruz-based, West African-influenced Mexican tradition of son jarocho at free classes offered by a friend at El Sereno's Eastside Café. Years later, the co-ed crew, with the addition of Jose Cano, named their group after the space that molded them.

Though they struggled to forge an identity, they eventually crafted a sound anchored in the instrumentation of son jarocho but incorporating other forms of expression such as hip-hop, Native American music and cumbia rhythms. The band's big opportunities and successes affirmed their risk-taking decisions. "It's proof to us that there's a hunger for [not only] this sound, but also the message that we're putting out there," Carlos says.

That message includes immigrant-rights issues, the politics of the Chicano Movement, and the stories of the neighborhoods in which they grew up. "It's a remixed perspective of what it means to be Chicano," says French, a vocalist and jaranero who says his band is like Gogol Bordello-meets-acoustic East Los. Las Cafeteras' recent More Than Music tour took them to Canada, where they also chose to incorporate poetry and storytelling workshops at the colleges where they performed.

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