A fiesta for Cinco de Mayo: Payomet hosts Las Cafeteras from L.A.

Las Cafeteras for Payomet's Fiesta de Musica

CAPE COD TIMES - Even though we’re still taking COVID-19 precautions, that doesn’t mean we can’t have any fun this year on Cinco de Mayo. 

By Jason Savio - April 29, 2021

From the other side of the country, Las Cafeteras will be taking part in Fiesta de Musica, an event on the May 5 holiday hosted by and benefitting the Payomet Performing Arts Center in North Truro. 

Las Cafeteras is a Los Angeles-based band that performs a unique mix of hip hop and folk encapsulated in an East L.A. sound. Las Cafeteras’ music is inspired by son jarocho, a folk music style based in Veracruz, Mexico.  

“For us, (playing music) was a way for us to connect to our culture,” says Daniel French, who plays the jarana segunda (an eight-string guitar tuned similarly to a ukulele) and keyboards in Las Cafeteras. He also sings and emcees.  

French says playing music is “a way for us to connect with Mexico in a way that was cool and open and expressive. Music transports us back home and beyond and helps us to talk, (have) dialogue with people who are strangers. It’s a bridge to the heart and the human spirit.” 

Music inspired by son jarocho

The group uses traditional son jarocho instruments — such as French’s jarana — plus the four-string requinto (“If Jimi Hendrix was born in Veracruz, he would’ve been playing that”), quijada (a donkey jawbone) and tarima (a wooden platform). Las Cafeteras members sing in English, Spanish and Spanglish. 

Las Cafeteras got its start about 15 years ago, somewhat unexpectedly, when its members bonded over their love of traditional Mexican music and began taking informal lessons from an instructor at the East Side Café community center, the band’s namesake ("the coffee makers"). The group caught on and began to play community centers, churches and local parties in the Los Angeles area before eventually moving on to bigger venues like the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and the Hollywood Bowl. Now the band performs across the country. 

“I was like ‘wow.’ We started getting paid more, enough to pay for more than tacos,” says French. “We started as students of music and sort of accidentally became a band that plays shows.” 

More than just a band

But Las Cafeteras is much more than just a band. As a group that got its start at a community center, the members of Las Cafeteras have taken that sense of helping one another out on the road with them. They’ve set up workshops, training and residencies “in an effort to engage a variety of audiences,” according to the band’s website. From elementary schools to Ivy League schools, North America to New Zealand and Australia, French and his bandmates have worked hard to share their culture and help others be more aware of its history while understanding their own.

“We work with people to uplift their own stories, to listen to the stories around them, to acknowledge the stories that they’re standing on,” French says. “We do a lot of training about that, about cross-cultural competencies, diversity training, creative storytelling workshops with young people, old people, staff and students.” 

And, as always, the music is a crucial part to spreading their message.  

“We started in the community trying to make a difference, so now we continue primarily as performing artists in that same way,” says French. “In our set, you’ll hear the sounds of our city, the sounds of our homelands. You’ll hear us talking about where we come from and the struggles of our family, crossing borders, trying to put food on the table, and also a call for the world not just as it has been, but the world we wish it to be. Its realism, its imagination, its hope, and trying to hopefully not sugarcoat anything to give it how we see it and inspire people to get up and do something.” 

Like most musicians nowadays, French and his bandmates miss playing in front of live audiences. He calls the opportunity to do so a “gift.” Las Cafeteras hasn’t performed in-person for a room of people in 14 months, instead keeping busy with virtual shows and workshops. The band has also been busy recording new music; French expects Las Cafeteras to release a new single and video in June, ahead of an EP in the fall. 

Las Cafeteras’ upcoming Payomet show was filmed at Gold-Diggers Studio in Los Angeles. It's the band’s fourth performance for the venue. 

“Every time we come back, it’s almost like it’s a hometown for us,” says French. “It’s really cool.” 

Viewers of the Payomet Cinco de Mayo show can expect “electric energy and a healthy dose of L.A. vibes,” complete with a virtual meet-and-greet option available, as well as a choice to have food and margarita supplies delivered to your door. 

“Make your tacos, pour your mescal, and get ready to see what happens when artists are pent up for so long and what they gotta release, ‘cause we’re going to be dancing and singing songs from our homelands as well as songs from L.A.,” French says. “We’re going to take you on a journey through time and space that will hopefully leave you inspired to make a difference and make a change in your own community.”