Las Cafeteras

This land is our land

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

To see Los Angeles’ Las Cafeteras perform is to watch a confident Chicano sextet that embodies with every eclectic note pride in their origins and influences.

However, it was not always that way.

In fact, members of the band remember feeling confusion about their place in their community and society as a whole, as well as pressure to conform to a white, English-speaking world.

But when the six future band mates met at a community space that encourages expression, activism and positivity, and bonded over their love of Son Jarocho, the folk music of Veracruz, Mexico, the combination of supportive atmosphere and musical like minds instilled in them a sense that their heritage was to be honored and celebrated—as joyously as possible.

And so Las Cafeteras was born. The name is an homage to the space that spawned and nurtured them, feminized to pay respect to women, not least the ones in the band.

If you’re beginning to think this isn’t your standard-issue musical act, you’d be right.

Their music is a lively and evocative blend of the aforementioned Son Jarocho and Afro-Mexican, augmented by spoken word and zapateado dancing, which is hallmarked by rhythmic striking of the dancer’s shoes, a distant cousin of tap dancing. They incorporate such instruments as jarana, requinto jarocho (both guitar-like instruments), cajon (a box-shaped percussion instrument), and quijada (made from the jawbone of a mule or donkey)—along with a little glockenspiel and Native American flute, just to make things even more interesting.

Into this multifaceted cultural stew of exotic instruments and performance elements, Las Cafeteras then adds a hearty dash of progressive politics, with songs that touch on immigration reform, the DREAM Act, the civil rights movement, the United Farm Act, and the underreported epidemic of feminicidio—female homicide—in the violent border town of Ciudad Juarez.

Given the current political climate of the United States, and the attitude of its President toward Mexicans, immigrants and basically anyone who isn’t white, it would be easy to assume that Las Cafeteras’ brand of musical politics has become increasingly angry and fiery to suit. But the band has insisted that is not the case, that they feel their message is best presented with positivity, that they want to be a force that brings us together instead of another wedge driving us apart.

It’s hard to believe they could feel this way, but all one needs to do is listen to their rendition of “This Land is Your Land,” in which the lyrics to the classic song are beautifully interwoven in both English and Spanish, to understand they really mean it and that this is a country with room for us all.

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