Las Cafeteras: ‘You can’t have a movement without movement’

The only wall Las Cafeteras are interested in building is one of sound. 

Hector Flores speaks to The Adelaide Review from East Los Angeles, the neighbourhood of his birth that also brought his band Las Cafeteras together. “East LA has the highest population of Mexican-Americans outside of Mexico,” he says from the line at his local barbershop. “You ever hear about Ellis Island in New York, where all the immigrants come through in the turn of the century? East LA is like Ellis Island for Mexican folks.”

Growing up in East LA as the child of undocumented migrants, Flores was an activist before he was a musician. It’s a natural response when your very identity is politicised from birth. “Immigration is a huge part of the political landscape in the US, and when you have a President who’s talking about building a wall, and we’re artists who don’t believe in borders… there’s going to be a conflict.”

Blending rarely heard Afro-Mexican sounds from the Son Jarocho tradition with modern hip hop and rock influences, the music of Las Cafeteras is an infectious and very danceable window into the Chicano experience. “We all fell in love with Afro-Mexican music we all grew up in LA, we love hip hop, salsa, rock all that stuff. But a lot of us are Chicanos, Mexican kids, so we love roots music.

“It’s a beautiful opportunity,” he says of living at a juncture of different cultures. “Imagine you’re a painter and there’s only a certain amount of colours that exist, and now you’ve been given a new colour – that’s how I feel. We’ve been given a very particular experience and understanding, living in the in-between.”

For Flores, taking that perspective around America following the polarising 2016 election was an opportunity to change perceptions one dancefloor at a time. “Growing up in East LA, we live in a bubble,” he explains. “I don’t know anybody around me that voted for Trump, but he won. So being able to tour across the country has been wonderful because we’re meeting folks who have very different ideas of what America means, different political stances – people who voted for Trump and yet they’re dancing to our music, they love our culture, our food.

“There’s movement, man, and for us as musicians we believe you can’t have a movement without movement – that’s why you need music.”

“If you love our music and culture, and then when you meet us, you might not vote against us in the next election,” he says hopefully. “Most people have very negative views of what immigrant kids look like, and to be real… we’re very good looking and talented,” he laughs. “And if they got to meet us and sing with us and jam with us, then they might actually think differently about immigrants and immigrant kids. That’s been beautiful.

“Because people on the dancefloor don’t care where you’re from they just want to dance,” he says. “So on the dancefloor we’re breaking down borders.”

Despite the impression given by Trump’s ever-escalating rhetoric, Flores does see change in both wider America and his own community. “I think it’s a new day,” he says. “In LA, Mexicans are not a minority we’re a majority making up most of the school system, the city. My pops came from Mexico, came from a very traditional, conservative background and had a lot of ignorance when it came to Middle Eastern folks, and homophobia. But all his kids are really open, really conscious and very intersectional. We’re for queer rights, immigrant rights, Black Lives Matter, we feel like if you ain’t free I ain’t free.

“Right now in the US we’ve just voted for the first Muslim woman congressman, the first transgender congresswoman, people like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez the youngest person elected to congress. Little by little you see a changing face, and I think it’s people from my generation making that shift.

“There’s movement, man, and for us as musicians we believe you can’t have a movement without movement – that’s why you need music.”

But, Flores jokes, there is just one group that Las Cafeteras remain uneasy about performing to ahead of their WOMADelaide 2019. “It’s a journey, we’re gonna play music that’s 400 years old, then we’re gonna travel to the present and electrify roots. We’re all hyped, we’re all party – if you don’t wanna dance, do not come to our show.”

Las Cafeteras play WOMADelaide on Friday, March 8 and Sunday, March 10
womadelaide.com.au

Header image:
Photo: Rafa Cardenas

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