A conversation with Las Cafeteras (video)

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Xochitl Bernadette Moreno's picture
Annette Torre, Denise Carlos and David Flores of Las Cafeteras perform at The New Parish in Oakland. Photo by Xochitl Bernadette Moreno.
Annette Torre, Denise Carlos and David Flores of Las Cafeteras perform at The New Parish in Oakland. Photo by Xochitl Bernadette Moreno.

By Xochitl Bernadette Moreno

Recently Bay Area music goers lined at the New Parish in Oakland to see Las Cafeteras, Las Bomberas de la Bahia and La Pelanga DJ’s for a performance titled Beats not Borders, a Movement Show.

Hector Flores front man for Las Cafeteras said the event was “a place where you can dance sing & also be for justice. Those things can live in harmony - Justice & Celebration.”

In addition to the over 500 attendees for the sold out show, Las Cafeteras invited four base building organizations from the Bay to participate in the event both by addressing the crowd, tabling and displaying art. The nonprofits they invited to join them are some of the forefront organizations in their areas of work both here in the Bay Area and nationally.  The groups who turned out included were (MUA), Movement Generation and the East Bay Immigrant Youth Coalition and Culture Strike.

Mujeres Unidas y Activias(MUA) who was part of the event led the charge in Passing the CA Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, legislation that provides domestic workers with some of the same protections offered the majority of the workforce such as overtime pay and the right to a lunch break. The Movement Generation Justice & Ecology Project provides in-depth information and analysis about global ecological crisis and facilitates strategic planning for action among leading organizers from Bay Area organizations. East Bay Immigrant Youth Coalition is an organization for undocumented people and allies.

Culture Strike, a magazine focused on the national arts movement around immigration, displayed art at the show. Their group fights anti-immigrant hate by bringing out the stories of migrants and creating counter-narratives about migration.

By putting these organizations and the important work they do in the spotlight the tone of the show was elevated far beyond your average night on the town.

The show drew heavily on the traditional music style of Jarocho.

“Jarocho is a music of resistance, a storytelling music. So when people have stories, they talk about their stories of justice of love of community, you know,” said David Flores requinto player “It (las Cafeteras) was this great marriage of doing Jarocho with this group of young Xican@'s, good looking Xican@'s. We we’re doing a lot of social justice work before we found the music and before the music found us.”

For many Xican@'s (yes, that's right - Xican@'s) Las Cafeteras symbolize a culmination of the Xican@ cultural identity. The term is derived from "Chicanos." The use of the X instead of the Ch in the spelling embraces the X sounds and spelling in the native language Nahuatl and the @ instead of  o/a in Chican(a) or Chican(o) moves away form the gender binary system. Both of these issues are tackled by their music and message.

"There isn’t one definition of what Xicanidad means... It comes in all kinds of packages,” says Denise Carlos. “I think that really understanding that we are in a political state, right. Not necessarily having a political identity but being in a political state. Always having potential to be in danger. Having our status being in danger. Almost having to defend not just being in this country physically but also being able to celebrate where we come from. And having the privilege to also be able to organize for the people who don’t have that privilege.”

Las Cafeteras blend vibrant musical fusion with a unique East LA sound and a community-focused political message. Their poetry remixed with Afro-Mexican-Caribbean rhythms of traditional Son Jarocho sounds are part of what make their music unique. A range of traditional instruments fill out the band: the marimbol, a large finger piano and cajón or box drum, not to mention the signature stringed instruments the jarana and requinto which resemble a ukulele all topped off with the percussion instrument the quijada a donkey’s jawbone. The band includes zapateado, a percussion style that can be compared to tap dance performed on a wooden platform called the Tarima.

By combining these traditional instruments with the stories of their streets the result is a performance and a sound that audiences can relate to. And relate they did. The crowd at the New Parish on July 10, was ecstatic, clapping, singing and dancing along to the groups reinterpretation of classic songs. For example, La Bamba, a song popularized by fellow East LA native Ritchie Valens at age 17. Las Cafeteras version has become “La Bamba Rebelde.” The use of reinterpretation is common in  Son Jarocho and perhaps one of the reasons why it is still used to tell the stories of people from Mexico and beyond. By reinterpreting them they remain an accurate account.

The reinterpreted song was changed from “yo no soy marinaro, soy capitan soy capitan” or “I’m not a sailor, I am a captain, I am a captain” to “ yo no creeo en fronteras.. los crusare’ los crusare’Yo no creeo en fronteras soy Xican@' soy Xican@'” or “I do not believe in Borders I cross them, I cross them. I do not believe in Borders I am Xican@' I am Xican@'!”







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