Chicano band Las Cafeteras mixes styles, from spoken word to Mexican folk music, creating something fresh and unique.
After meeting at a coffee shop as students, the group came up with their name from an organization where they took classes. In addition, to honor women they changed their name to the feminine version of the word.
Their music covers a wide range of topics from civil rights to immigration reform. The band sat down to discuss hot topics before a recent concert in Chicago.
Windy City Times: Nice to meet the entire band from East LA.
Hector Flores: Thank you. Cutest band from East LA.
Denise Carlos: You be the judge!
WCT: Denise, you have the dress with the loteria playing cards on it I saw online?
DC: My mom made it. Do you want one?
WCT: I'm not really the skirt-wearing gay man.
DC: Things could change. You might want to have a Marilyn Monroe moment in the wind!
WCT: Where does your fashion sense come from?
DC: I like a lot of colors and different styles. My mom has been sewing stuff for me since she was a baby. She has been sewing since she was 12 years old. I like showcasing her talent and her art. When I was growing up she worked at a sweat shop near our home. She worked for big corporations. I think it is important to show your culture and your pride in what you wear.
WCT: I heard you worked at a LGBT center.
DC: Yes. I ran the Gender & Sexuality Resource Center at Cal State LA for a few years. We do a lot of programming. I was a clinical social worker so I did a lot with mental health.
The LGBT world is constantly changing with labels, identities and expressions, so it is a good place where people can celebrate who they are but understand the differences in life.
A lot of times we talk about LGBT concerns through tragedies but I think it is important to talk about it in a more empowering and celebratory way.
WCT: Your band has talked about it in the music with lyrics about gay marriage.
HF: Big time. The song "Señor Presidente", which is an old school, Afro-Mexican song, we remixed it and rewrote our own lyrics. In every show we do we perform the song "Señor Presidente" and we ask the audience what they would do if they were president. It is amazing the responses we get from across the country. There are also points where we get to say what we would do.
At the time when queer marriage was not passed in the United States we would say things like "I'm in love with my boyfriend and we want to get married." When this was not allowed we wanted to put the idea out there in a fun way. At the end of the day it is about relationships and love.
We would talk about quality education and universal healthcare, all the things we should have. We wanted to try for liberation and now that we have that we can start moving forward.
WCT: You have toured in the past with performers I have spoken to about politics, such as Lila Downs and Ozomatli. Was politics in your music something you set out to do and how did you meet in the beginning?
DC: It was really an organic process. We know each other through activist oriented work, community organizing, and going to school together. It is important for us to be storytellers of our communities and our families. We don't necessarily say we are going to write a political song, we just write about what we are living and what we want.
We met organically and talk about the world we want to see. We put that in our music. It is something that is universal. Everywhere we go there is a community that wants to have a conversation.
WCT: Where did your version of the classic "La Bamba" come from?
Daniel French: Well, that is a famous song from Ritchie Valens but a rock and roll version from back in the '50s. It is actually a Black-Mexican song that comes from the Gulf Coast of Mexico, the state of Vera Cruz. Ritchie Valens was playing a rock song off of a traditional song. We heard the old school version. We were learning traditional music at a community center called the Eastside Cafe. There are hundreds of old verses of the song. Son Jarocho music is what we were learning and it is all about improv. It is like hip hop. We might be playing then decide to make fun of someone's shoes or tell someone in the audience we like them. It is all metaphors and telling stories.
We were in LA playing music from the Gulf Coast of Mexico. Most of us at that point had not even been to that area of Mexico. We have since gone there and learned from music from those folks. Back then we wanted to tell our stories through that song. We had to allow ourselves to be ourselves while tapping into traditional music.
The song "La Bamba Rebelde" was used in a telenovela on Telemundo called Baja el Mismo Cielo. It is about an undocumented man. In one of our choruses in our version we state "I don't believe in borders so I am going to cross." I think that speaks to the bigger picture of Las Cafeteras. We are not into building walls that separate borders or communities, whether is LGBTQ, Black, Brown, Asian or native. We are trying to say we have a lot in common as humans. We share a lot. If people can let go of some of those labels they will be surprised in how we all relate at a heart level. From there let's just dance and be human for awhile!
Once we are all human we can finally listen and build that musical bridge together.
WCT: Your parents must be so proud of their kids holding onto cultural traditions.
Jose Cano: Well, I majored in engineering so to give up an engineering job to play music made them a little scared. I don't know if proud is the right word! [laughs] In terms of where we have come now they are proud.
HF: Let's just say if we weren't on a telenovela they wouldn't be that proud!
WCT: What are your plans for the rest of the year?
Leah Gallegos: We are releasing our second album in the fall. It is a lot of fun. A good mix with a lot of originals and we will be straying away from the traditional music that our last album had. We will continue touring until then.
Check out this colorful band's website at lascafeteras.com .