In 1989, Mexico City’s Cafe Tacvba first formed, aiming to blend traditional Latin music with rock and hip-hop, resulting in a sound that is entirely the band's own. That’s 28 years of bending genres and blending cultures in a way that doesn't seem forced.
The group was originally called Alicia Ya No Vive Aquí, a tribute to the Martin Scorsese 1974 comedy-drama Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, which tells the story of a widow, played by Ellen Burstyn, traveling across the United States in search of a second chance at life. The name was clunky, and so the band renamed itself after a historic Mexico City coffee shop.
Back then, the idea of still being around nearly three decades later would have been ludicrous to these four men: Rubén Isaac Albarrán Ortega on lead vocals and rhythm guitar; Emmanuel "Meme" del Real Díaz on keyboards, piano, programming, rhythm guitar, melodica and vocals; José Alfredo "Joselo" Rangel Arroyo on lead guitar and vocals; and Enrique "Quique" Rangel Arroyo on bass guitar, electric upright bass and vocals.
“It’s been weird to think about it,” says Díaz. “We were at university and thinking about a career, and suddenly started playing music to find a way to put our creative energy into something. People reacted to the music. We had a chance to make an album and became professional. It’s been tough over the years. It’s not easy to get it together, but I believe the music blends us together. Our relationship with the fans over the years is very special.”
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In all the years that the project has existed, the men haven’t come close to releasing the same album twice. Various musical influences bounce in and out, while naturally, social issues have a impact, too. And then there’s the fact that the men have simply been growing up.
“With every album, every live show, you can see the age of us and the band,” says Díaz. “We have families, and we’ve lived now. The way we see life and culture with our music — people know if it’s honest. When we have something to say, we say it from the heart. That’s all we can do. Be honest, and if it moves you, then the music will sound like that. We’re always having new ideas — moving back and forth to the past. Overall, though, we’re transformed as people.”
The band has also been the subject of a documentary, Seguir Siendo. Now, Díaz sees the current sound of the band as involving electronic experimentation blended with richness after the album Jei Beibi was released in May of this year.
“It’s a human, instrumental range of ideas,” he says. “With the last album [El Objeto Antes Llamado Disco], we worked with a producer [award-winning Argentine producer Gustavo Santaolalla], and we went in 100 percent. Lots of guitar, and not orchestral, but a textual sound — acoustic with percussion. There are lots of genres blended together that we have never reached before — traditional Mexican and Latin music influences, used in a sophisticated way.”
Díaz says that he enjoys touring the United States, as the band’s audience is always growing here. Each time the musicians come here, they play longer tours, performing in different cities and bigger venues. In this volatile political climate, Díaz says Cafe Tacvba can be a catharsis.
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“The message is, we are here playing for you,” he says. “Do you enjoy it? Yes! That’s the message. Fight for what you want to live for. Hopefully, people will be safe. In Mexico, we’ve noticed people deported [from the United States], and that’s a shame. At least they’re trying. Don’t be intimidated or ashamed. Keep fighting and push it.”
Denver's vibrant Mexican immigrant community makes the city a fun place fun to play, says Diaz. But he also likes to see other people from other cultures at the shows — people who might not understand every intricacy yet who are eager to learn. That interest, he says, is vital, and not only for music — though it does mean that a whole heap of people are discovering the band and the Jei Beibi album.
“It’s the first of a new era," Díaz says. “We’re finding how fast music travels, how easy it is for people to get close to a new thing. Music doesn’t sell, of course. But it’s fun to see how every five minutes it’s changing. That’s the challenge for a band and the industry. As long as we have good ideas and an audience, then we’ll keep playing. The shows are doing great, and the places are crowded.”
Cafe Tacvba, with Flor de Toloache, 8 p.m., Monday, October 9, Ogden Theatre, 935 East Colfax Avenue, 303-832-1874.