Taking a modern approach to the genre that inspired Richie Valens's 1958 hit “La Bamba,” Las Cafeteras have put their spin on Son Jarocho music, blending contemporary Afro-Mexican rhythms and hip-hop beats with the centuries-old musical genre from southern Veracruz, Mexico.
The seven East Angelenos are known for their spirited zapateado (a foot-stomping dance) and passionate bilingual songs infused with social and political messages. In “Trabajador, Trabajadora,” a call and response piece, lilting Spanish vocals are carried along by soft requinto and jarana guitar playing, a bass-walking marimbol rhythm, and English spoken word.
Along with singer-songwriter Irene Diaz and Latin indie rock band Chicano Batman, Las Cafeteras aim to represent the culture of East L.A. in music. According to Hector Flores, Las Cafeteras' singer, jarana player, and zapateado, their role in the “Eastside renaissance” is a humble one, rooted in family, culture, and spreading their ideas of community to a larger audience.
“There’s this kind of global Mexi-culture, like a broader layer to what’s happening in L.A. that's inspiring,” says Flores. “The stories of this time are being told through the music, and it’s happening at a pace that hasn’t happened in a long time for our neighborhoods.”
The members of Las Cafeteras met more than a decade ago through activism and community work. In 2005, they decided to take Son Jarocho classes at the Eastside Café in El Sereno. “I met [cajon, flute, requinto, and harmonica player] Jose Cano at a rally against budget cuts against the CSU system back in 2003,” Flores says. “I met Daniel [French] organizing and working to preserve the South Central Farm, the largest urban farm in Los Angeles.”
After playing Son Jarocho music together practically nonstop for a few years, they transitioned from students to performers. “As we were taking lessons, we formed a connection and people would invite us to come play this art show or community center or birthday party,” says jarana player and singer Daniel French. In 2012, they released their first studio album, It’s Time, mixing cheerful dance tracks like “El Chuchumbre” with tunes like “La Bamba Rebelde," a rebellious cover of "La Bamba."
Recently inspired by filmmaker George Méliès’s A Trip to the Moon, the group will debut their first English music video for the love ballad “Luna Lovers," about a pair of lovers who find each other by the light of the moon, on August 6. They're hoping to “redefine music videos for Latin indie rock,” says Flores. It's a tall order but after hearing how they’ve reconstructed Son Jarocho music, the band seem up to the challenge.
Catch Las Cafeteras in a free Grand Performances show with Chilean cumbia-punk band Chico Trujillo next Saturday, July 27.