Café Tacuba - Biography

By J Poet

Café Tacuba is the most important rock band to ever come out of Mexico; if they didn’t initiate the rock in Españole movement by playing rock without using English lyrics, they are undoubtedly the most important band in the genre. Their 1999 album Reves/Yosoy (Warner Latina) won a Latin Grammy for Best Rock Album of the Year and they took home a Best Latin Rock/Alternative Album Grammy for Cuatro Caminos (2003 Geffen.) They started life as a punk folk band, playing local folkloric styles that were unfamiliar even to many Mexicans, but expanded their sound to include hip-hop, tango, speed metal, banda, Norteño, electronica, mariachi, ranchero, tejano, industrial, ska, funk, and pop. They’ve only made six studio albums in a career that now spans 20 years, but every one of them is a stunning musical statement. They will spend most of 2009 on the road with an ambitious world tour covering North and South America, Europe and Asia.


The musicians of Café Tacuba - Ruben Albarran, Joselo Rangel, Enrique Rangel, and Emmanuel del Real – met at the National Autonomous University in Satélite in Mexico City, where they were studying art and design. They started playing together informally in 1989 and after appearing for a while as Alicia Ya No Vive Aquí (Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore) named their group after the El Café de Tacuba, a restaurant known for using Mexican ingredients in recipes from all over the world. They wanted to do the same with Mexican music. During their early gigs, fans called Albarran Pinche Juan! (Fucking John), the name he used for himself on the band’s first album; since then he has changed his stage name for every album and tour going by Tachuela, Cosme, Anónimo, Rita Cantalagua, and Cone Cahuitl. He is ambiguous about his sexuality and has worn skirts on stage.


Within three years of their debut, the band had built a rabid following in Mexico City by mixing Mexican folk music with ska and punk. They signed with WEA Latina and unleashed Café Tacuba (1992 WEA Latino) a blend of Mexican folk, Tejano, banda, techno, hard rock, Afro-Cuban, and jazz. It went double gold in Mexico within months of its release and sold well in the United States, despite total lack of airplay and lyrics sung exclusively in Spanish. They toured endlessly, surprising audiences with their ever-shifting stylistic explorations. Re (1994 WEA Latina) was not only the best Mexican rock album of the 90s; it’s was one of the best alt.rock albums of the 90s made anywhere. The stylistic mashup included chants from Mexican indigenous culture, punk, banda, bolero, funk, ranchero, and metal all delivered with the band’s blistering in-your-face energy. They followed it up with the ironically titled Avalancha de Exitos (Avalanche of Hits) (1996 WEA Latina) a collection of songs made famous by Mexican and Latin acts given a radical makeover with elements of jazz, samba, bolero, hardcore punk, classic rock, soul, easy listening, and disco bobbing around in the mix. David Byrne adds backing vocals to “No Controles” for some US street cred.


Café Tacuba took some time off the road to work on the double album Reves/Yosoy (1999 WEA Latina), which won the inaugural Latin Grammy for Best Rock Album of the Year. To challenge themselves, the band members taught learned to play new instruments including harp (not harmonica), accordion, and vibraphone, and mixed found sounds into their compositional process for the all-instrumental Reves, even collaborating with avant-garde classical group Kronos Quartet on two compositions. The second album, Yosoy, added at the insistence of their label, included more traditional rock tunes, most outtakes from previous album sessions. Critics praised the album, but after its release the band took a three-year break and left Warner. Their old label put out two best of collections: Tiempo Transcurrido (2001 WEA Latina) a 22 song compilation and Lo Esencial de Café Tacuba (2001 WEA Latina) a three disc set that included remastered versions of their first three albums.


Café Tacuba emerged from their vacation with Vale Callampa (2002 MCA) a four song EP of tunes made popular by a recently defunct Chilean rock band called Los Tres. They brought their eclectic talents to bear on the Tres hits “Dejate Caer,” “Olor A Gas,” “Amor Violento” and “Tirate.” For Cuatro Caminos (2003 MCA/Geffen), their first internationally distributed album, the band used a live drummer rather than drum loops, and continued to explore the outer limits of pop/punk/rock. They referenced the entire history of rock – American and Latino – and added electronica, folk, and light jazz for one of their most ambitious projects. It landed a Best Latin Rock/Alternative Album Grammy and Latin Grammys for Best Alternative Album and Best Rock Song for the track “Eres.” A sold out concert in Mexico City was recorded for the double CD set Un Viaje (2005 Uni Latino.) The band took another break before recording Sino (2007 Uni Latino), which returned them to the more intimate sound of their first album, with serious, moody songs delivered with traditional rock band instrumentation – guitar, bass, drums, keyboards. The album won worldwide critical accolades that hailed the record as not only Tacuba’s best, but one of the best rock albums of the year, regardless of country of origin. They will spend most of 2009 on the road celebrating their 20th year as a band with an ambitious world tour of North and South America, Europe and Asia.



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