Music, the universal language, is indeed a platform that allows for the transcendence of language via movement and sound. Places where multiple languages and cultures find contact with one another often become hotbeds for musical creation. Chicano artists (like Santana, Los Lobos and Lila Downs to name just a few), who have their origins at the intersections of multiple cultures and languages, have a rich history of fusing traditional musical forms with contemporary ones to create something new. The point of contact between old and new, or an in-between space is akin to what Gloria Anzaldúa has defined as the borderland/la frontera. The transformative and restorative process of creating something innovative out of one’s roots and surroundings is an organic way to interact with the past while marking one’s moment in the present. To use Anzaldúa’s words, these borderlands exist where “two or more cultures edge each other… where the space between two individuals shrinks with intimacy”. These words bring to mind images of celebrations and dancing, the times when we find ourselves closer in proximity to one another, in authentic moments to indulge in each other’s ways of understanding the world.  The connections between dancing and festivities are inseparable in Mexican and Chicano cultures; body movement, personal expression and community celebrations are all a part of this space when we experience the music of bands like Las Cafeteras and Orkesta Mendoza.

Las Cafeteras, weave together the vast styles and musical traditions of the city of East Los Angeles, a place so vibrant and diverse that it cannot be defined by just one culture or music style.  They fuse the acoustic instrumentation of folk music from México and the United States with hip-hop, rock and punk. Traditional rhythms such as son jarocho, ranchera, and cumbia resonate via the strings of the acoustic guitar, the requinto, the jarana and the percussive instruments like the cajón, jawbone and tarima (stomping box). Their voice is strong, clear and engaged.  Las Cafeteras’ message seeks to promote love in the world and provide a strong voice for marginalized people.  The sense of community is apparent from how they compose their songs to the diversity of experiences that appear in their multilingual lyrics.  A testament of this is their revolutionized version of La Bamba, titled La Bamba Rebelde [The Rebellious Bamba] which reaffirms their cultural and linguistic heritage and demonstrates the hybrid nature of living in a border space. The melodic voice of Denise Carlos says in Spanish “Ay, arriba y arriba iré, Yo no creo en fronteras, …yo cruzaré, yo cruzaré…” [Ah, I will rise, I will rise to the top, I do not believe in borders, I will cross I will cross…], grounding the action of crossing in its literal image of border crossing with the figurative meaning of pursuing endless possibilities.

Orkesta Mendoza, also creates a space in between worlds, blurring boundaries to blend a contagious mix of sound and movement. The “indie mambo” band from Tucson, brings a high-energy combo of horns, strings and percussion to get everyone and anyone on their feet. Originating as a tribute project to Cuban mambo king Perez Prado (1917-1989), they naturally evolved into a fusion of many Latin styles such as cumbia, ranchera and merengue with influences of psychedelic and indie rock molded over the framework of a mambo orchestra. Sergio Mendoza, the band’s founder and namesake, was born along the U.S.-México border in Nogales, with influences from both sides. He has been playing in bands since he was twelve years old, including such eclectic groups as Calexico and Devotchka. In an interview, Salvador Durán, who sings and dances on the tarima attributes their music to be a way to attain balance, integration and communication among people, thus providing the audience with an invitation to participate in the border space, with festive sounds designed to soothe the body and soul. Once the Orkesta begins playing, they lock in their audience for a journey that leaves them feeling energized and rejuvenated.

By Dr. Satty Flaherty-Echeverría

Associate Professor of Spanish

Satty Flaherty-Echeverría joined the faculty of Centre College in 2016 as assistant professor of Spanish. Flaherty Echeverría’s research and teaching interests include Afro-descendants’ literature and cultural production in the Caribbean and Latin America, African literatures written in Spanish and Portuguese, colonial/postcolonial and marginalized literatures, critical race studies and black intellectualism in the Spanish and Portuguese-speaking worlds. Flaherty-Echeverría earned a B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. in Spanish and Portuguese literatures, cultures and linguistics from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities.

For more information and to purchase tickets to Las Cafeteras and Orkesta Mendoza  : globalFEST on the Road: The New Golden Age of Latin Music Click Here.