While Donald Trump continues his campaign to build a wall along the Mexican border, some of the best new music in the US is being produced by Mexican Americans. Following on from Arizona’s rousing Orkesta Mendoza comes Las Cafeteras from east Los Angeles, who will make their European debut at Womad this summer.
A defiantly political but cheerful folk-embodied acoustic band, they are influenced by the son jarocho styles of Mexico’s Veracruz state. They play the guitar-like jarana and requinto jarocho, but add a dash of hip-hop to the mix. The songs here are in both Spanish and English, and range from the summery Vamos to the Beach to a reworking of Woody Guthrie’s This Land Is Your Land, which ends as a rousing celebration, and the upbeat but thoughtful If I Was President – apparently their policies would prioritise education, wealth redistribution and a party in the White House.
Songs for Troubled Times
Bob Dylan warned the Establishment, in his 1964 album, 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)