Las Cafeteras: Tastes Like L.A.

June 26, 2017

Songs for Troubled Times

Listening Post 105. Bob Dylan warned the Establishment that a raging battle would “soon shake your windows and rattle your walls/For the times they are a-changin’.” Five decades later, If I Was President, the signature protest track from Las Cafeteras’ new album, is likewise animated by the idea that anyone can imagine the power to repair the world: “Mr. President, I’ve come to make clear/That I don’t have the papers to work over here,” it begins, proceeding to a priority list encompassing education, justice, clean water and melting guns into bike racks (video 1). Las Cafeteras hail from East Los Angeles, but are used to crossing cultural and musical borders; they perform in Spanish and English, and have a folk base that’s less Greenwich Village than Veracruz. On Tastes Like L.A. they play an uplifting blend of Mexican son jarocho, rock, cumbia and hip-hop; beyond protest, they celebrate community, sing about values and make time for joy and love. Their ranchera-flavored This Land Is Your Land (video 2) is undoubtedly closer in spirit to Woody Guthrie’s intent than the sanitized popular version. La Morena pays homage to Mother Earth and to the feminine experience, while Paletero extols the ice-cream vendor, symbolizing a dependable man who always shows up and sweetens life. The endearing El Feo Mas Bello (The Most Beautiful Homely Man) goes beneath the surface: “He doesn’t have money but something worth more/Caresses, affection and serenity’s kiss” (video 3). The band members are community activists and students of human nature; one of their mottos is “Good sailors come from bad storms—you can only grow when times are hard.” They aim to build bridges but their inclusive message may shake a few walls—even one yet to be built. (Cumbancha)






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