It is an extraordinary measure of Latin alternative music’s ongoing evolution that a band as stylistically extravagant as Café Tacvba can be revered as a pillar of this genre. While the Grammy and Latin Grammy-winning group has maintained the same lineup since their formation in 1989, their sound has undergone seismic shifts with each release. And it is a measure of their fans’ devotion in both Latin America and the United States that Café Tacvba can pack cavernous venues like New York’s Central Park Summerstage and L.A.’s Hollywood Bowl. With their sixth studio album, Sino, the band quite fittingly explores themes of the ideological changes that occur over time.
As progenitors of Rock en Español, Café Tacvba (initially spelled “Café Tacuba”) was among the first Mexican rock bands to fuse influences of punk and electronic music with indigenous folk sounds. Since their 1994 release Re, a masterpiece of metal, punk, disco-pop and boleros that is often compared to The Beatles’ White Album, the band has become increasingly inclusive, referencing everything from hip-hop to Banda Sinaloense; tango to speed metal. On Sino, they launch into a classic rock motif that sounds more like Rush than Radiohead, a band Café Tacvba is often compared to, given their encyclopedic span of influences.
The members of Café Tacvba are Rubén Isaac Albarrán Ortega on vocals and guitar, Emmanuel “Meme” del Real Díaz on keyboards, guitar, vocals and programming, José Alfredo “Joselo” Rangel Arroyo on guitar and vocals, and vocalist/bassist Enrique “Quique” Rangel Arroyo. (Alejandro Flores and Luis Ledezma, violin and drums, respectively, are considered honorary members.) Their legacy began when, in a tribute to the Martin Scorcese film Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, the band adopted the moniker of “Alicia Ya No Vive Aquí.” As students in Mexico City, they appropriated the name of an historic Mexico City restaurant.
Reflecting dizzying genre shifts, lead vocalist Albarrán changes his image and his name for each release, as he is known among other names as “Juan,” “Pinche Juan,” “Cosme,” “Masiosare,” “Anónimo,” “Nrü,” “Amparo Tonto Medardo In Lak’ech” (shortened to “At Medardo ILK”), “G3,” “Gallo Gasss,” “Élfego Buendía,” “Rita Cantalagua,” “Sizu Yantra,” “Ixxi Xoo” and “Cone Cahuitl.” MySpace currently credits him as “Ixaya Mazatzin Tleyótl.” Even as he continues imagining his new character, this name expired upon the launch of the band’s latest CD. He now calls himself Cone Cahuitl.
Producer/composer/musician Gustavo Santaolalla is a key architect in the band’s ever-changing incarnations. “He’s an incredible producer; he can see the big picture and then translate this to the heart of the band,” the band’s Emmanuel “Meme” del Real Díaz told the Detroit Free Press.
With an Aztec ancestry, colonial past and modern-day chaos, Mexico City is a complex and paradoxical metropolis. Like their adopted hometown, Café Tacvba — named “Best Alternative Artist” at the 2008 MTV Latin America Awards and nominated for a phenomenal six Latin Grammy Awards for Sino — continues to epitomize a vivid musical alchemy of absolute transformation.