Revered Mexican rock band Café Tacvba comes to San Francisco on Sept. 5 for a five-night residency at The Independent. (Courtesy of Café Tacvba)
It's impossible to talk about Mexican rock without mentioning Café Tacvba, a hugely influential band from Ciudad Satélite, a suburban area northeast of Mexico City. Café Tacvba’s music began as an effortless fusion of regional folk sounds and rock, and the band members have been ambassadors of rock en Español since forming in the 1989, when they began to dominate Mexico’s airwaves.
The quartet, comprised of Rubén Albarrán, José Alfredo "Joselo" Rangel Arroyo, Quique Rangel Arroyo and Emmanuel del Real, has long had a reputation for social activism. They raised money for victims of 2017's destructive Mexico City earthquake and regularly use their music to speak out about important social issues, like the disappearance of 43 students from Ayotzinapa, Mexico on the track “1-2-3.”
In recent years, Café Tacvba have lent their voices to the fight against violence against women. In fact, don’t expect for their 1994 song “La Ingrata” to make it into any of their upcoming set lists. The band members retired the classic track, about a heartbroken man who wants to inflict pain on his former lover, two years ago. Instead of changing the lyrics, they explained in an interview with Argentinian newspaper La Nacion that, as they've gotten older, they've become more aware of how violence against women plagues our world.
KQED recently chatted with lead guitarist and vocalist Joselo Rangel ahead of Café Tacvba’s five-night residency at San Francisco's Independent, which kicks off on Sept. 5. (This interview was conducted in Spanish and translated by the author.)
“We understand the cultural significance of our music, and how our fans have grown up with us and particular songs," Rangel says of the band's nearly three-decade career.
Indeed, Café Tacvba’s impact has reached across cultural and generational lines. Rolling Stone called their 1994 album Re one of 10 greatest Latin rock albums of all time. The band has been nominated for five Grammys, winning Best Latin/Rock Alternative Album in 2003 for Cuatro Caminos. They've also been nominated for 16 Latin Grammys and won an impressive seven—most recently, Best Alternative Album for last year’s Jei Beibi.
“For some [fans], Re is the most important album of our discography," says Rangel. "Yet we often find that others just recently found out who we are, and our newest albums are the most important for them.”
Millions of listeners have been following Café Tacvba since their 1991 self-titled debut album—and many of those fervent fans reside in the United States, specifically in areas with large Mexican-American populations. In 2009, Café Tacvba became the first Mexican rock band to play the then newly reopened Fox Theater in Oakland, returning for a sold-out show in 2017. For 2018’s NiuGüeis Tour, the band secured rare multi-show residencies in San Francisco, Chicago and Los Angeles, with San Francisco the longest out of the three.
“For this tour we wanted to do something different and out of the norm,” Rangel explains. “There have been many instances that we tour in places where fans are not able to get tickets, or we wish we could stay longer and play more shows while we are there.”
Café Tacvba's show run at The Independent is a legendary moment for the Bay Area's thousands of Mexican immigrants, who've been labeled as criminals and rapists by the current administration. Despite constant talk of Trump’s wall, Latinx music remains not only profitable, but well loved on this side of the border.
"It is a difficult time to be in right now, but I want to send my strength," says Rangel. "We can’t wait to see everyone."
With such Café Tacvba's extensive discography of 12 albums (including eight studio albums, an MTV Unplugged, a best of, a tribute and a 15th anniversary album), each night at The Independent promises to be different from the last.
“This is giving us the opportunity to, perhaps, play a different show every night," says Rangel. “There are a number of songs that have solely stayed as part of an album. Revisiting them, it’s interesting but also complicated. We have to go back in time and place ourselves in the exact moment when we recorded a particular song. When we are able to do it, it’s incredible.”
Is there a secret formula for the band's longevity? “We love and respect each other,” Rangel says. “We are all family. It’s not so much like a marriage, as many would be led to believe, as it is a brotherhood. We might get mad at each other, or have disagreements, but it is all temporary.”
It's impossible to conduct an interview with Café Tacvba without bringing up politics, and how Mexico and the United States' relationship has turned into a nefarious political game centered on immigration. Mexico just elected a new President, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who will be sworn in on Dec. 1. The new leader will have to find ways to re-establish a cordial relationship with the United States under the Trump administration.
“It is such a bizarre political climate,” Rangel says. “I have yet to meet someone who voted for or currently supports Trump. Why did he win? What I discovered is that my social circle has ideas that are the complete opposite of those who voted for him.”
He calls the Trump phenomenon, “a sci-fi novel, a political regression.” The video for the band's 2016 song “Futuro” depicts a Trump lookalike, La Santa Muerte (the deity of death in Mexican folklore), a priest and other surreal figures all aboard a bus throttling through space. Its lyrics deal with humans' failure to understand the grand scheme of fate.
“We want to live in a world different than the one we are in now,” Joselo emphasizes, describing the residency at The Independent as an escape. “For two hours each night, we’ll play this musical ritual where we’ll live in a different world.”
Café Tacvba perform at The Independent Sept. 5–9. Details here.
For arts stories you won't read anywhere else, come to KQED's Arts and Culture desk.