Las Cafeteras don’t believe in borders, musical or otherwise | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

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Las Cafeteras don’t believe in borders, musical or otherwise


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Chicano indie-folk band Las Cafeteras formed in 2005, after their members forged friendships while taking classes in traditional music, dance, and art at Los Angeles Mexican American cultural center the Eastside Cafe. The six-piece have built a signature hybrid sound rooted in the Afro-Mexican genre son jarocho, which employs a rich mixture of indigenous themes and melodies, European stringed instruments, and African call-and-response vocals and syncopated rhythms. It took root in U.S. cities in the 80s and is now being transformed by new generations of musicians—including Los Cafeteras, who are committed activists and second-generation Americans with experience navigating the multiple cultures of immigrant children. They certainly don’t stay in folkloric territory, instead adding hip-hop, Spanglish pop, R&B, funk, punk, and rock to give their tunes a fierce, raucous energy that crosses musical borders with abandon. In their exhilarating concerts, Los Cafeteras jam on tunes from their two studio releases, which include original material and takes on classic protest songs, among them a Mexican folk-rock version of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” and a hip-hop twist on “La Bamba” titled “La Bamba Rebelde” in which they declare, “Yo no creo en fronteras, yo cruzaré!” (“I don’t believe in borders, I will cross!”). The bandmates are all multi-instrumentalists; between them they play several instruments from the son jarocho tradition, such as the quijada (a donkey jawbone) and the jarana (similar to a small guitar), as well as keyboard, bass, drums, and glockenspiel (a surprising addition, but trust me, it works). Several members are also accomplished dancers, and they always incorporate exuberant zapateado (a traditional dance style that involves intricate percussive footwork on a wooden platform) into their joyful celebrations of immigrant storytelling and survival.   v

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