Las Cafeteras, the six-piece Chicano urban folk band from Los Angeles, has much to celebrate these days. For the first time in five years, they released a new full-length album. Tastes Like L.A., a sophomore effort following 2012's debut It's Time, enjoys a rave review in the Guardian for its blend of political and party vibes. And speaking of those blokes across the puddle, the band also kicks off a summer tour this Sunday in Orange that will later take them to the United Kingdom for their European debut.
It's as if Las Cafeteras (Daniel French, Jose Cano, Leah Gallegos, Denise Carlos, Hector and David Flores) never had that pesky problem of being blasted as "sexist sellouts" in December 2015 by former marimbolera Annette Torres.
Back then, the musician claimed in the Weekly that Las Cafeteras gave her the boot after she called them out for turning corporate under the rule of unaccountable macktivist men in the group. Las Cafeteras refuted her claims and promised to hold a community forum on patriarchy at Self-Help Graphics in Boyle Heights someday in the unforeseen future. The plática never happened. Instead, Las Cafeteras recorded ten songs for the new album and put together a 17-city tour in support of Taste like L.A.
"I knew they were going to wait until time went by," Torres tells the Weekly. "They know how people are going to forget. They knew they weren't going to be held accountable for long." She hasn't spoken with her former band mates in more than two years, but the band has a different take on the community forum that wasn't.
"Las Cafeteras retracted from a public forum because mentors—including restorative justice facilitators, elders and trauma therapists—advised us that this is a private, personal and family matter," they state via email. Torres is the aunt of the Flores brothers and the band believes any forum would do more harm than good to all involved. "We have invited Annette to participate in a facilitated restorative justice dialogue with us. However, she has not responded."
But an abandoned community forum (or restorative justice chat) isn't the only unresolved matter from the messy split. Torres refuses to sign any contract the band's lawyer sends over that she says attempts to shortchange and silence her. "They want to get out of paying me what they owe me, removing me from past work that I did, and still trying to make me not trying to speak my truth," she says. The former Cafetera wants compensation for the tour shows she signed on to before the split and all the performances that her image helped promote afterward. That includes a contract with Telemundo for use of the band's music on the telenovela Bajo el mismo cielo.
Torres also claims the band's lawyer countered that she's owed no money because of shows cancelled, including a potential White House performance, in the aftermath of negative publicity equaled the amount demanded. "It was just another slap in the face," Torres says. But that's not the way Las Cafeteras tell it. "This is simply not true," they write of Torres' claims. "Annette's lawyer and our lawyer are engaged in amicable negotiations and are at the tail end of finalizing an agreement that includes Annette's considerations."
The lingering acrimony isn't totally absent from media surrounding the new album; it's just brushed aside. The Boston Globe's glowing profile on Las Cafeteras writes that Torres left the band (instead of her claim of being booted) in a quick paragraph framing the fiasco as one that led Las Cafeteras to a period of introspection and healing. "The anger and fight in us can create animosity and be unhealthy," Hector Flores told the newspaper. "But the work has been powerful, and we understand that we really love each other."
The band's new album offers another round of songs showcasing Las Cafeteras for what they are: an intriguing mixed bag. "If I Was President" riffs off Wyclef Jean's wailing muses of yesteryear and son jarocho's traditional "Señor Presidente." The new twist is musically pleasant enough, but Flores and French's attempt at rapping gets them the old school 3rd Bass "gas face." (Flores is a good-enough spoken word poet and French's singing is the group's most silvery). Carlos' adenoidal vocals are endearing enough on "Paletero," but Gallegos still bleats throughout the album bereft of any lasting range. Taken all together, Tastes Like L.A. is polished enough to still be the soundtrack of the summer for the chipsters who need something more paisa than Chicano Batman.
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"We made this album while going through a difficult break up and, in many ways, it was our medicine through tough times," the band states. "We put a lot of love and heart in our work. We look forward to continue sharing it."
A new album isn't the only thing on the way. David Flores and Gallegos got hitched and are expecting their first born after the summer tour.
Las Cafeteras transcend any musical shortcomings with the sheer force of their charismatic determination, a shtick that can only last for as long as the band's rebellious luster holds. Luckily for Las Cafeteras, left-friendly media outlets leave them largely unchallenged. It pained Torres to see easygoing interviews and supportive spots for the band on Rising Up with Sonali, Colorlines and Amy Goodman's Democracy Now!, a show that premiered the music video starring santanera actress Diana Romo for "If I Was President," the lead single off Tastes Like L.A.
It wouldn't surprise Torres to see swarms of activists flock to their summer shows, either. "What I've learned is that people will only pick and choose who they want to hold accountable," she says, calling foul. "These 'conscious' people have a lot to learn."
Las Cafeteras with Flor de Toloache at Chapman University's Musco Center for the Arts, 1 University Drive, Orange, (844) 626-8726. Sun., 6 p.m. $20-45. All Ages.