Gangs, crime, housing projects, East Los Angeles is a predominantly Latino area with a reputation. The violent crime rate in East L.A. is double that of the rest of California, and crime in general runs almost three times the national average. HPR’s Noe Tanigawa reports on an East L.A. band that sings, with joy, about their roots in the community.
Leah Gallegos was born and raised in Northeast L.A. and she loves it still. She says yes, there’s been crime, but it’s going down, there are some nice old buildings and family restaurants, and most important, many families. Though the elements of community are strong, Gallegos says, there is also violence and lack of information and resources to improve daily life. Gallegos says Las Cafeteras originally got together ten years ago just to have fun, then they started getting asked to play marches, protests, rallies and community centers. Weddings and birthdays, then theaters and concerts followed. Gallegos says, they started with traditional music, called son jarocho, the folk music of Veracruz, on the Gulf of Mexico.
The group’s years together have afforded time to grow together. Gallegos recounts one day they were talking during a rehearsal and had just finished playing the traditional tune, La Guacamaya. They wondered what a guacamaya is (it’s a macaw) and began realizing that, as city kids, even more than pigeons what they see are the ghetto birds: helicopters. They realized together that the songs they sing are beautiful tools of storytelling, and it’s only natural that they tell their own.
Son jarocho instruments are guitars of various sizes, the marimbol (a big thumb piano,) drums, maybe accordion, and percussion. Gallegos plays the donkey jawbone. The women in the group also play zapateado, like percussion tap dancing on a wooden platform. Gallegos says she considers son jarocho to be soul music, its instruments are made from the earth and the music, she says, connects us to it once again.
Las Cafeteras is on a three island tour now, beginning on Hawai'i island. They will also give an open workshop at the East West Center's Hale Halewai at 12 noon on the 26th,
Wednesday 27 January 2016, 7:30pm: UH Hilo Performing Arts Center
Thursday 28 January 2016, 7:00pm: Kahilu Theatre
Saturday 30 January 2016, 7:30pm: Maui Arts & Cultural Center
Sunday 31 January 2016, 7:30pm: Hawaii Theatre
An inspiring video about a day in a life, Mujer Soy
Las Cafeteras on NPR