Homecoming: an interview with Hector Flores of Las Cafeteras
Las Cafeteras is musical family/band made up of seven men and women who have more fun on stage than just about any other band I know, and who are deeply involved in issues of justice for their community. Based in EastLos – East Los Angeles — traditionally the center of Latino culture in this sprawling city that at one time was Mexico – Las Cafeteras brings a combination of tuneful joy and politically-focused messages that makes their high energy American Latin Music the perfect ambassador for the EastLos sound, attracting a diverse audience nationwide.
Their music fuses traditional Afro-Mexican music with modern rhythms and storytelling to deliver inspiration for community involvement and justice. And they do it in a way that makes everyone, regardless of race, get up and dance.
Las Cafeteras has been on tour since September, crisscrossing the nation in the last of a series of tours that have kept them from their homes in LA for almost a full year. This week they came home and will celebrate with a Homecoming Concert at LA’s famed El Rey Theater. Las Cafeteras vocalist and multi-instrument player Hector Flores took time to talk with Music FridayLive about the tour, the upcoming concert and the message of justice they bring.
Patrick. Hector, welcome back to LA. We missed you.
Hector. It’s good to be here, my brother from another mother. It’s good to talk with you and it’s good to be home.
Patrick. Thank you for the high praise! Let’s get right to what’s most important, you have a homecoming concert December 12 at the El Rey Theater in Los Angeles. That’s a big deal. Congratulations.
Hector. Thank you. It’s a long time coming, it’s a long time coming. We have been selling out little shows and now it is so good to have enough space and a venue where we can make it happen.
Patrick. Will you have a homecoming queen?
Hector. We were talking about that! We were talking about dressing up and having a retro scene with costumes. That is a wonderful idea having a homecoming queen and king.
Patrick. You could draw straws in the band to see who gets to be the homing queen.
Hector. Or we could have some sort of contest. People can come dressed up. Or people who have done great work in the community. I am going to think about that.
Patrick. Well, I nominate Irene Diaz for Homecoming Queen.
Hector. That would be great. Many, many moons ago I saw her playing on Colorado Blvd. for the first time. I saw her sing and play the guitar and then the piano. I couldn’t believe that this woman was not on tour around the world..
Patrick. Actually she just got home from a tour.
Hector. I know. I first saw her about 5 years ago. I am so glad she is getting the love and people are hearing her stories and her voice and her music.
Patrick. Maybe she would open for you.
Hector. I like that…you are an instigator.
Patrick. I am. But back to music. You have been busy since you were on the show back in July. In fact, you have been busy all year. What is the highlight for the year for you?
Hector. We were invited to the Montreal Jazz Festival. We played in Montreal and we did not know what kind of feedback or energy we would receive there. We had one of the greatest shows ever…we have 10,000 folks. I did not know how diverse Montreal is. We had West Africans, South East Asians, and Canadians and everything was in French…no English, no Spanish. The diversity really struck me, but everybody got down, everybody loved the music. It was an amazing show…that was a highlight of the year..
Patrick. We have had a number of American Latin Music artists on the air who have been energized by the issue of immigration reform, now white hot issue in the Republican primaries. Elsten Torres – sometimes known as Fulano de Tal’ – released a song and a video about Trump. Has that issue affected you or your music or your fans?
Hector. To us immigration is less political and more a family issue. A lot of band members are first generation or even second generation; our parents were born is Mexico. It is an issue that is very real to us as a group. When we write songs they are about us, they are about growing up and about families and they include migrating as a kid or as a parent. We don’t write a song to be political, we write a song about our lives, our experience. It is a very tough time now, but we would be singing about immigration whether it was a hot topic or not.
Patrick. Well, regardless of the issue, your music manages to inspire both my head and my feet and part of that is your fusion of son jorocho and rock and African beats into an East LA sound. For those who may not know about the music from southern Veracruz, or the East LA sound, maybe you could tell them what son jorocho is and what the EastLos sound is.
Hector. The crux of our music comes from son jarocho, a culture, a style, and a people – a way of living from southern Veracruz – that has this music called son jarocho. Son is the genre jorocho is the people of Veracruz. It is a mix of African, Arabic, Spanish, indigenous. It came from slavery, indigenous people. We learned how to play that music here in LA as students, and then we started writing our own songs because the son jarocho is about life in southern Veracruz and we wanted to write about our lives in Los Angeles as working class families, living in multiple cultures, as migrants. As kids we listened to rock and punk, and ska and Al Green and cumbia and mariachi other music – so today we let the tradition inform a new style. The American sound is now changing – the LA sound is now changing as we become the majority population.
Patrick. Yes. I call it American Latin Music. It started with Ozomotli and Los Lobos and even before that with the Chicano rock sound of the ‘50s and ‘60s.
Hector. Yes, there is a whole background of people who brought us here and a new generation of people like La Santa Cecelia and Chicano Batman moving us forward. It is changing.
Patrick. Your song “Soy Mujer” is about a very strong woman whom you honor. This is not the old stereotype of a macho Latino culture. Is the EastLos culture different – is there a new generation of young Latinas who demand equality and a new generation of Latinos who are fine with that? Or was the stereotype wrong all along?
Hector. The stereotype was wrong all along. At the same time we had a fight within ourselves. There is a new day. The culture in LA is about fighting for economy, fighting for space, fighting to be innovative, to create a new culture. You should check out the all-female bike collective Ovarian Cycle – about how they work for health and equality in the community. The East LA music, the culture – the Queer Liberation movement – it all about the same rights for everyone. We all bleed, we all love, we all cry…it’s a new day.
Patrick. How do people stay in touch with you and follow your concert schedule?
Hector. Go to our Facebook page, Instagram, Twitter, our newsletter at lascafeteras.com. And we do workshops and training when we are not playing.
Patrick. How are you organized?
Hector. Like families. We never meant to be a band, we were students of son jarocho. It just happened. My brother is in the group, my brother’s partner. We always visited each other, went to each other’s parties and quiencenerias. We never felt like a band. We felt like a family. That is how it happened.
Patrick. In your song “La Bamba Ribelde” you say that you don’t believe in borders. What borders? Why is that a rebel song?
Hector. In this country of America, this land up here, 500 nations lived here, the indigenous nations before anything else. They travelled around the continent without borders. We are talking about the physical borders our parents crossed to find a better life. But we also talk about the borders that divide people, beyond the physical borders that Donald Trump is trying to put up. We mean the borders that keep us from being free, from connecting with family, that divide us…that keep us from connecting as human beings. We all have borders, but we say we don’t believe in them and we want to erase them.
Patrick. I have had that experience. At Los Globos with Gaby Moreno playing and there are people from Guatemala and Mexico and Peru and gringos like me and we are all dancing and having fun. And I am sure your Homecoming show will be the same. Hector thank you.
Las Cafeteras, Hector Flores vocals and mulita instrumentals