Los Angeles

East LA Band Channels Latino Experience Into Song

No matter where you come from, where you live, we all have something to say about who we are and where we have been, and nowhere is that more true than in a diverse city like Los Angeles.

For one local music group, their mission is to inspire everyone to tell their personal stories and make connections, all while fighting injustice and pushing for a more productive future for all.

“Es la bamba rebelde… porque somos chicanas, porque somos chicanas de east la, ay arriba y arriba,” sings members of LA band Las Cafeteras.

Band members describe their music as the embodiment of the streets where they live, where people fish in the lake while the skyscrapers of downtown Los Angeles peer overhead.

“What was happening on the street corners at 2 a.m.,” explained Daniel French.

The six-member group, including two women from East L.A., Las Cafeteras speaks to what it’s like to grow up here, even discussing the struggles of their own families.

“My pops passed away a year and a half ago with no papers, you know what I am saying,” said Hector Flores. “He had hepatitis C and he was dying and he couldn't get Medicare because he couldn't have papers because that's not allowed here.”

The band doesn’t mince words, whether it’s singing their original song “Trabajador Trabadora,” an homage to laborers and working people or when they revamp popular tunes like “La Bamba.”

Their take? ”La Bamba Rebelde.”

“Las Cafeteras are storytellers. We are not a political band, we are storytellers,” Flores said.

But their music has been connected to different causes, and even used in Spanish telenovelas.

For many folks who come out to see them perform, though, it’s that storytelling that makes them so appealing.

“This music sort of became a tool for us to then tell our stories and sing our stories and encourage other people to do the same,” said Leah Rose Gallegos.

The group began forming its sound at the East Side Cafe in El Sereno, a collective community space. They learned "Son Jarocho," a centuries-old style of music from the Mexican state of Veracruz

“Once I played the jarana it was over,” Flores said, referring to a guitar-shaped stringed instrument from the southern region of Veracruz. “It was like I was playing rhythms of my peoples.”

Their music is brought to life by traditional instruments like the jarand; the requinto; a donkey jawbone; the cajon, a box-shaped percussion instrument; and a wooden platform called the tarima used to dance zapateado, creating its own sound considered instrumental.

“We heard it at this effort to save this big community garden in South L.A.,” French recalled. “It was part of the soundtrack to that movement.”

“The movement for me was about healthy food; it was about (autonomy), respecting our elders and the knowledge that they carry.”

Today, it’s about the knowledge that the Cafeteras carry. The song “Mujer Soy” is about the weight of the lives many women lead.

“Whether we were harassed on the streets, whether we complained about having an earlier curfew than our male cousins,” said Denise Carlos.

“In our culture of ‘hush, hush, whisper, whisper,’ you know you don't have to deal with domestic violence,” Carlos explained.

There are songs in Spanish, English and so-called “Spanglish.” Some of their songs touch on the struggles of the heart.

The message behind “Luna Lovers: “To be on a mission to love ourselves deeper and deeper and through that when we fall in love with ourselves that just will extend beyond ourselves.”

Extending beyond who they are is why they are embarking on a new tour around the nation- nearly a decade after they came together.

“I think there is a movement right now of tapping into who you are,” Flores said.

They want their music to inspire others to find their own voices.

“We want you to start like repping where you are from, where your ancestors from and because the more you understand where you've been the more you understand where you need to go,” he added.

And they want their listeners to stand up for themselves.

“There are people telling razas what they can and can't do, directly and indirectly telling us how smart we are and how smart we are not,” Flores said.

Combined, these college educated, 30-somethings have three master’s degrees. One member is starting his doctorate in chicano chicana studies at UCLA.

“Most important thing is that we are continuing to learn about ourselves and our communities,” David Flores said. “The more I understand my journey the more I can understand someone else’s journey.”

Want to see Las Cafeteras in concert? Check out their schedule here.

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