Café Tacvba is huge in Latin America. The Mexican rock band has won Latin Grammys and played major U.S. festivals, like South by Southwest and Coachella. Its music has always had a political edge — but its members have never seen a moment quite like this one.
The band is currently preparing to launch an international tour behind its new album, Jei Beibi. One of the new songs, “1-2-3,” has a poppy sound that’s deceptively simple. It alludes to a chant that dominates protests in Mexico City, calling for answers about 43 students who disappeared at the hands of police in 2014. The band’s keyboardist, Emmanuel del Real, says Café Tacvba doesn’t look away from the political situation in Mexico — or the U.S.
“If you live in a country like this or with a neighbor like the one we have, you can’t be not taking care of what’s happening,” del Real says. “You can’t not say something about it.”
Even as the band has gained popularity abroad, Café Tacvba still insists on singing only in Spanish. It mixes rock and electronic music with traditional Mexican styles like ranchera; the first single from the new album, “Futuro,” is built on cumbia beats.
Bassist and singer Quique Rangel wrote “Futuro.” His high-pitched whine conveys his obsessive worry about what’s going to happen in the future and his inability to control it.
“It’s about here and now is what you have to think and be aware,” Rangel says. “Everything else doesn’t matter. The future is today.”
All four members of the band wrote songs for this album, which is Café Tacvba’s first in five years. They take their time to think about what they want to say and how they want to say it. And Rangel knows that expectations are high.
“We are aware of the pressure people want to put in our work,” he says. “But we try not to think too much in that. We have to be the first and last listeners that have to be satisfied, and our goal’s accomplished.”
The members of Café Tacvba began playing together in 1989, when they were all in their 20s and they gravitated towards angsty love songs. Now, they’re older — starting families and having kids. You can hear that in “El Mundo En Que Nací,” a lullaby that del Real wrote for his two young children.
“Everybody keeps telling you, ‘You haven’t experienced nothing until you are a father,’ and you say, ‘Yeah, whatever,’ ” del Real says. “And then when you have your child, you say ‘Oh, Jesus’… I realized that you’re gonna learn a new way [to] love somebody, a new form of loving.”
Café Tacvba will be playing these songs on its tour, which includes more than 30 dates in the U.S. Rangel says he’s well aware of the significance of a Mexican rock band playing in President Trump’s America.
“The four of us are not ‘bad hombres,’ ” Rangel says with a laugh. “I think we want to give to the people from Mexico and from other countries in Latin America — to bring them comfort and hope.”
The musicians are all worried about the state of the world, but Jei Beibi opens and closes on high notes. The final track, “Celebración,” tells listeners, “Let’s get ready.” Is it a call to political action or a call to party? Café Tacvba is happy to leave listeners wondering.