There’s a strange sound emanating from Los Angeles at the intersection of Son Jarocho and hip hop, nestled in an industrial corridor reborn as a community garden movement, bridging neighborhoods from Veracruz to South Alameda. The happy gridlock of musical genres, grassroots political activism, and migrant cultures have crystallized in the band Las Cafeteras, which features Son Jarocho folk tunes with an LA inflection.
KCET (in conjunction with the 18th Street Arts Center) reports on how this band plays into a long history of cross-cultural arts activism in LA’s Mexican American enclaves:
Beginning in the late 1960s, the first Chicano art gallery in the city, Goez Art Studios and Gallery, led by brothers Joe Gonzalez, a sometime Mariachi singer, and “Don Juan” Johnny Gonzalez, who led bands in the golden era of 1960s Chicano Rock and Roll, developed architectural and public art proposals and projects intended to empower and beautify the East Los Angeles community. Willie Herrón, a painter, muralist and member of the Chicano collective Asco, was the front man for the prominent punk band Los Illegals through the 1980s. Beginning in the early 1990s, and in part galvanized by the Zapatista movement that resonated strongly with Chicanos in Los Angeles, an era of musical groups incorporating social justice themes drew from rap, world beats and rock, producing work infused with political messaging, such as Rage Against the Machine and Ozomatli.
Las Cafeteras is adding a new chapter to this history of activism meets music meets art, re-branding it as a mix of Mexican folk and American genres. On the surface, Hip Hop and Jarocho might not seem to work, but they do. It’s a marriage of storytelling forms completely appropriate for a millennial generation who respond to all of their contemporary influences and who are heavily invested in the idea of community, driven by issues such as the Dream Act and immigration reform. Of their goals with the project, Las Cafeteras says, “We want folks, in particular youth, to see us and say, ‘If they can do that, then so can I,’ and use whatever medium they want to become agents of change.”
As for the music itself, it stems from a dynamic blend of localized folk tradition and the polyglot voices of survival and rebellion spanning many generations and artistic terrains, all wrapped in a deeply participatory culture:
Member Annette Torres describes their genesis: “Angela agreed to teach a group of us what she knew of Son Jarocho in a sort of each-one-teach-one, or DIY approach. I think we took it as a way to explore connections to our Mexican heritage and the power of the music to build community, tell stories from our communities, and create a more convivial and communal space. Son Jarocho has a built-in tradition of the fandango, a sort of community celebration and jam session where everyone, including the audience, is a participant.”