Story by Anna Browne
Afro-Mexican rhythms are one of the core essentials that make up the dance and music troupe Las Cafeteras. The Los Angeles-based group recently performed in the Syre Auditorium at Whatcom Community College Oct. 21. The free show was open for both students and community members to attend.
Las Cafeteras had performed at the college before, and they were eager to return when Whatcom student Elijah Morgan, one of the key organizers of the event, called their manager to invite them back, Morgan said.
“You have to catch them while they’re touring. We caught them when they’ll be traveling back from a performance in Oregon,” said Morgan.
While Afro-Mexican rhythms are a key part of their performance, the group uses a variety of instruments like a marimbol, which is a wooden box with attached metal strips, and a box drum, called a cajón. They express English and Spanglish poetry to emphasize their message through their lyrics, said David French, one of the vocalists and the group’s emcee.
The mission of the group is to learn, share, and practice beauty, culture and energy of the music of Son Jarocho, a regional folk music style that originates from Veracruz, Mexico, said French. “By telling our stories of life in the concrete jungle, Las Cafeteras strives to make this ancient music relevant to everyday people in everyday places,” the group said on their website.
“Our goal is to inspire people to be themselves,” French said.
“Our CD, ‘It’s Time’, is saying it’s time to do what you’re supposed to do, whatever that may be,” said French.
French said that their music is for people who experience “solidarity and [can] relate to those that also feel solidarity.”
As soon as the performance began, the group got everybody clapping to the beat.
“Bellingham, Seattle, Whatcom, L.A. — we are all one!” Was the last line sung by Hector Flores, one of the vocalists, which brought cheers from the crowd.
A song that got the audience’s attention and some shout-outs was about what the Las Cafeteras members would do if they were president.
“If I was president, I would be taking care of everyone,” sang Flores. “I’d be feeding the kids and dancing all night to the stories of our ancestors.” This song was accompanied with some rapping by French.
Throughout the performance, people were clapping to the beat, bobbing their heads to the music, and smiling and cheering for the group. Annette Torres, who plays the marimbol, translated the lyrics into American Sign Language during some of the numbers. Towards the end, French explained what some of their instruments were and how to use them properly.
At the end of the performance, the audience all stood up and clapped throughout the song, and Leah Rose Gallegos, one of the vocalists, brought the audience member Tara Villaba, 30, to dance onstage, who said she knew them from Los Angeles.
“They are the group who inspired me to dance to San Jarocho music,” Villaba said.
“They were fantastic,” said Duane Kahler, 27, who also attended the show.
“The performance was very uplifting with a great political message,” said Kahler.
People of all ages attended the event, and were very excited and awed from the performance.
“They were amazing, what a great mix of music,” said Christina Lafham, 37, a Whatcom student, who was encouraged by her teacher to attend the event.
Cat Catham, 15, another audience member, said “The audience got really into the music and it just made them really happy.”
Another attendee, Spencer Peters, 17, said that “there was a really good, underlying rhythm and sound to their music. It was very interesting.”
Many people attended the event from the sheer desire to see them live. “This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see them perform,” said Moise Payne, 22.
Las Cafeteras is an independent group and is not signed with a label or managed by an agent.
“The growth is a gift,” said French. “We worked hard and we made friends each year from performing.”
While the group originally started as 25 people, it slowly dwindled down to the seven members it is now from a mutual agreement and friendship, said French.
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