I recently had the opportunity to interview Jose Cano, a member of the East Los Angeles septet Las Cafeteras, who was very humble, but excited in explaining the philosophy and history of their band, their experiences, and goals of their music.
Las Cafeteras official website proclaims “Yo no creo en fronteras. Yo cruzare” or “I don’t believe in borders. I will go forth.” This simple line forms a larger vision of the bands influences, environment, and overall philosophy. This philosophy is rooted in Chicanos finding identity within the United States, a place that is their home, but that is not representative of their ideologies presented in the mass media.
As first generation Latino-Americans, they believe that mass media, in particular their music, does not resonate with people from every community. According to Jose Cano, “not everybody feels like it’s them. That’s how I felt when I was in high school”. He adds, “people are hungry for this stuff, they wanna hear…something that feels totally different. Sung from the heart with all the sincerity possible.”
The band was founded almost 6 years ago in large part because of free Son Jarocho classes that were being held at a Los Angeles community center called Eastside Café (which is where their name derives from). Son Jarocho is a type of folk music style that comes from the southern portions of Mexico, mainly the coastal areas of Veracruz.
The communal music involves dancing, singing and contains Afro-Caribbean and Spanish elements played with guitars and various percussion instruments.
To ‘Las Cafeteras’ the music was a much needed alternative to the aforementioned top hits radio that wouldn’t connect on the foundations of history, culture and identity that the members of the band had experienced like so many first generation Chicanos in the country. After initially starting off as a large group class, the 7 members branched out and began playing their original compositions and traditional Jarocho music on the streets of their neighborhood. Eventually they played for fundraisers, which led to cross country tours.
Jose admits that even though most of the people did not have experience playing instruments, it was here that family, friends, and peers from the community came together and practiced until they became the iteration of the band you can hear today.
The influences of their music are a base of Mexican Son Jarocho blended with local influences such as Hip-Hop, Ska, Rock and Cumbia. Jose calls their fusion “Afro-Mexican Urban Folk”.
This lively group of friends and family follow a saying from one of their affiliated community centers in Santana which says“Cuando la cultura muere, la gente muere” this means, “When the culture dies, the people die”. Las Cafeteras want to retain their culture and help it spread so that their histories never go unnoticed. In their goals to spread the Jarocho, bring communities together and give others an opportunity to look into their identities, they form a philosophy about experiences.
Jose puts it like this, “We’re not Mexican enough to be from Mexico, and we’re not American enough to be considered the typical American. For us it’s defining who we are. Our experiences growing up as sons of immigrants.” He goes on to say that it is important to express oneself and challenge oneself.
Keeping your history is crucial to gaining standing in this country, and as he explains the stories of his community, of love and struggle are parts of it. “We have to tell our own story. No one else will. That’s what Las Cafeteras is.” The band will embark on their last tour for the year, which will head down to San Miguel, Ensenada and Tijuana. Next year they will make their debut at South by Southwest festival. Las Cafeteras are set to release a political themed single and video this November 1st titled “Presidente”, which asks the question, “What would you do if you were president?”