By Adam Lovinus
By Lilledeshan Bose
By Gabriel San Roman
By Rachel Mattice
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Daniel Kohn
By Nate Jackson
By Mike Seeley
Photo by Gustave ArellanoIf the police could arrest Cuauhtémoc just for being a band, they probably would.
Their music is an activist's dream: bombastic drumbeats, Rage-esque guitar anarchy, and explosive vocal trade-offs between the smooth voice of Coyotl and the Duane-Peters-on-his-most-phlegm-filled-day screams of Mexica. Lyrically, the group concentrates on smart, passionate arguments against racism, sexism, imperialism and the other revolutionary isms. But the songs that are going to get them thrown in jail are the songs like "A la Verga con la Policía," which translates into vicious punk like what N.W.A was rapping about a decade ago: fuck the police.
So can you blame Orange County's boys in blue for constantly keeping Cuauhtémoc in their crosshairs? The band is even considering doing a remake of Brazilian punk legends Os Titãs' "Polícia" (a song calling the very existence of police into question), even though they don't know Portuguese—anything to expose the brutality that plagues virtually every law-enforcement agency in the world. And they refuse to stop denouncing the police: not so much because they're an easy target—although they are—but because the cops are by far the biggest bad guys in the members' lives.
You see, to be part of Cuauhtémoc is to be a target for the police.
Coming out of the various barrios of Latino OC—barrios that are producing some of the most unabashedly political music of our Cheney-as-overlord times—the quintet (singers Coyotl and Mexica, drummer Revee, bassist Victor, and guitarist Olin) brings an activist fervor to everything they write and sing. But ever since last year's Long Beach May Day fiasco, where an unprovoked squadron of the LBC's finest brutally cracked down on the anarkids protesting capitalism, the members of the punk/rap collective have lived their lives under the sunglassed glare of the cops.
Olin has noticed that his e-mails have been tapped into somehow, with federal officials leaving their own addresses as a taunt, daring him to do something against them. At protests, officers approach the band, demand to know their views, and walk away. They've even gone as far as censoring those who would give Cuauhtémoc good press.
"One time we were interviewed by Anaheim High's school newspaper and stated our views," says Revee. "A police officer called the school's principal saying that they couldn't print what we said about the police, so the principal told the students and their adviser to rescind the article."
To show support for the students' freedom of expression, the band showed up to a school event carrying anti-student censorship signs; the police promptly kicked them out. And these are the pleasant experiences. Cuauhtémoc's concerts are where the real run-ins with the police occur.
The Costa Mesa, Long Beach and Placentia police departments have raided three of their performances this year—and we're not talking about a solitary officer with a giant ego and a noise complaint. We're talking about phalanxes storming an otherwise-peaceful concert.
According to the police reports of the raids Cuauhtémoc provided to the Weekly, "radical figures" dominated the fliers advertising their concerts—actually pictures of Emiliano Zapata. And police also noted that Cuauhtémoc fans kept asking them for badge numbers, names and complaint forms—rights guaranteed to the people because this is a democracy, but requests met with scorn and threats of arrest.
"The police expect us to cause trouble even though the only violence at our shows is caused by them," says Revee. "They can't arrest us for just playing music, but they'll always find an excuse to raid."
"We know a lot of cops do well, but for the ones who don't, there are people like us who are going to be against them," he adds. "And music is our way of doing it."
These experiences make playing at their upcoming show at Anaheim's Unitarian Church—a tear gas canister's throw away from the city's police station—a particularly emboldening experience for the band. Most bands wouldn't even consider playing in the belly of their particular beast—you don't see Nazi nitwits in the middle of Santa Ana—but for Cuauhtémoc, this is what fighting the police is about.
"We love playing there!" Coyotl exclaims with both sarcasm and sincerity. "We know it's being watched because it's already a center for progressive activities. They're constantly checking up on it. When we sing our songs there, it makes it a lot more urgent for us. And we wave our middle fingers just a little bit higher."
Cuauhtémoc plays with Yaoh and other artists not afraid of the cops at the Unitarian Church, 511 S. Harbor Blvd., Anaheim, (714) 303-0004. Sat., 6 p.m. $5. All ages.