This East LA Band's Rebel Version of "La Bamba" Speaks Out Against Racism

Las Cafeteras uses acoustic instruments and punk attitude to spread their message of social justice and equality.

Photo by Piero F. Giunti

"We are made in Los Angeles. And we have a story to tell,” say the band Las Cafeteras, seven musicians from East L.A. who write songs about the struggles of Chicanos, Latinos, and other oppressed communities: immigration, family separation, war, injustice, and the hope for a better world.

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The band is inspired by Son Jarocho music from Veracruz, Mexico, and uses acoustic instruments from the area’s mixed cultural traditions: the small guitar-like Jarocho, the African marimbol, flutes, gourds and the percussive quijada. Fusing bilingual poetry and lyrics, Afro-Mexican beats, and zapateado dancing, Las Cafeteras add a lively DIY/punk approach to make the music their own.

The band members, who met through classes at the Eastside Cafe, a community space in East L.A., describe themselves as organizers as well as musicians. They get their political messages across through infectious rhythms and lilting melodies, as in “La Bamba Rebelde,” their version of a classic: “Ya no llores llorona, mi gente lucha contra leyes racistas en Arizona/Don’t cry weeping woman, my people are fighting against racist laws in Arizona.”

When touring, Las Cafeteras carry on the participatory tradition of Son Jarocho, holding workshops where they invite students to sing, strum, and dance along with the music. Most of all, they emphasize the importance of speaking up. “We get to invite you to tell your story,” band member Daniel French told Seattle’s KEXP radio. “It’s important, and it’s valid. If you don’t, the world is missing out. And you are too. We get empowered by writing and documenting our own stories.”