For Los Mocochetes, Music Is the Message

Los Mocochetes will release their debut EP, Mucho Gusto, on October 23.
Los Mocochetes will release their debut EP, Mucho Gusto, on October 23. Anthony Maes
One of the songs on Mucho Gusto, the upcoming debut from Los Mocochetes, is “Si Se Puede,” which translates to “Yes We Can.” It's a call to action against injustice — but the song is also where the origin story of the Denver Chicanx funk band begins, more than five years ago.

Joshua Randy Abeyta and Diego Florez met while both were teaching at Youth on Record; they dug each other’s energy and started jamming on drums and guitar at the nonprofit’s home in the La Alma Lincoln Park neighborhood in west Denver. Florez invited his friend Elias Garcia to one of their jams, and they began working on a song, with a chord progression from Garcia and lyrics penned by Abeyta.

When they met, Abeyta and Garcia discovered that their families were both from rural, mountainous Mora County, New Mexico, home to many farmers and ranchers.

“We made the joke that we're probably cousins,” Abeyta says.

They would later find out that their grandparents actually were cousins, making them distant relations. Since both families still had land in Mora, Abeyta planned to go down there in the spring of 2016 with Florez to help clean acequias, the irrigation trenches that go from a river's headwaters down to the ranches. To gear up for the trip, they went to Walmart to get machetes for cleaning the trenches and a soccer ball to play with when they weren't working.

“We're standing in the aisle at Walmart in the sporting goods section,” Abeyta remembers. “Elias is about 5’4”, and he’s got long red hair, and he pulls out the biggest machete he could find.”

Abeyta asked Garcia, “What are you going do with that machete, mocoso?” — Spanish slang for “snot-nosed brat.”

“Mocosos con machetes — that’s a band name,” Garcia said.

Florez combined the two words to come up with "mocochete," and the band's name was born.

“Si Se Puede,” which was initially titled “Mocochete,” would eventually be completed with a verse added by singer Jozer Guerrero, who first collaborated with Abeyta on a mini-play that Guerrero had written.

"‘Si Se Puede’ was kind of our introduction to each other and to the world, like, ‘Okay, here's what this sound is probably going to be like,'” Abeyta says. “We love hip-hop and we love funk. We love all of this...whatever you want to classify as Latin this or that, and there's the influences coming together.”

Even in the early days of Los Mocochetes, the bandmembers also knew that they wanted their music to have political gravitas.

“We pretty much formed as it was clear that Trump was becoming the frontrunner for the Republican Party," Abeyta recalls. "Even the night Jozer joined the band, his very first rehearsal with us was on election night. And all of us, having known each other — Jozer having won the National Poetry Slam championships, and Diego seeing his mom deported — all of those things that we witnessed firsthand, it was clear that that was going to be a big part of the message of our music. I think that's something that’s in almost every song that we have — either fighting the good fight or healing from the battles that you've been engaged in, whether that's a social battle or internal battle or interpersonal battle.”

Although Guerrero and Garcia wrote “Tacos” to describe how you can’t fight the good fight on an empty stomach, the song is also about the people who have taken care of them — and about those who haven't.

“Not only in our own families — abeulos, abuelas and tías in our lives that go out and work in restaurants or fields every day to put food on our tables,” Abeyta says. “My own grandma used to work in the fields. Her grandma died of heatstroke in a wheat field in her fifties. So it's kind of recognizing the toll that that takes on our people, and how much people love our food but don't want us, and the hypocrisy behind that.”

Guerrero co-wrote three other songs for Mucho Gusto, which drops on October 23, including “Que Viva Revolucion,” which was his response to Trump being elected. “Rocks,” which also came out of the early collaboration between Guerrero and Abeyta, was motivated by injustices surrounding the murder of multiple Black citizens and the protests that followed, fueled by police brutality. The song was initially inspired by Marvin Booker, who died during an excessive-force incident in the Denver jail in 2007.

“43” (“Cuarenta y Tres”), written as part of Guerrero’s mini-play, is about students who went missing at the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers' College in Iguala, Guerrero, Mexico, in 2014. “The song was about 43 students who went to go protest, and another protest that resulted in the murder of 100 students in the Ayotzinapa,” Abeyta explains. “The second wave of protesters went to raise awareness of these other students being murdered by the state. Those 43 students went missing and have never been seen or heard from since.”

"Los Mocochetes make music that’s fun and danceable," he adds, but “if you're listening, they’ve [also] got something to say.”

In the summer of 2019, the band started meeting with Shawn King, the drummer for DeVotchKa, who was on board to produce what Los Mocochetes thought would be a full-length album with about ten songs. In the fall of that year, the band flew down to Tucson to record over five days at WaveLab Studio, where DeVotchKa, Calexico, Iron & Wine and other acts have made albums.

“Shawn said, ‘You can put out ten half-done songs or you can put out five really well-done songs and call it a day,'” Abeyta recalls, adding that the change of scenery in Tucson, with its Southwestern vibe, desert and cacti, helped them get out of their heads a bit.

“It’s like you're there to do a job,” he says. “You don't have to worry about going home and doing the dishes. And it gave us that sense of professionalism, like, ‘Okay, we need to check our bullshit at the door.'”

The band chose Mucho Gusto for the name of the EP not only because it translates to “Nice to meet you,” but because “gusto” also means your heart is full.

“It’s not just like the formal ‘Mucho gusto,’” Abeyta explains. “It’s like, 'Nice to meet you. Give me a hug.’ Latin people, for lack of a better overarching term, are very affectionate. We kiss each other on the cheek, even strangers. It’s like, ‘Nice to meet you. Let me kiss you on the cheek. What do you want to eat? Welcome to my house — you know, mi casa, su casa.’"

The name also “shows our foundation and where we came from,” he adds.

“It shows that we take these things seriously, but we also don't let it overwhelm us in the sense of there's so much to do in the world, you know, so much to be done," Abeyta concludes. "And you never want to forget about it. You always want it to be there on the table, but you also have to make sure you make space for yourself and your own healing. It's like you’ve got to start within. You can't go out and change the world if you’re a mess yourself.”

There will be a
Los Mocochetes release party for Mucho Gusto at 6 p.m. Saturday, October 23, at Raíces Brewing Company, 2060 West Colfax Avenue, $15-$50,
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Jon Solomon writes about music and nightlife for Westword, where he's been the Clubs Editor since 2006.
Contact: Jon Solomon