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Thursday, January 20, 2022

The genius of Café Tacvba’s beautifully chaotic Re

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Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
Born in Mérida, Carlos Rosado van der Gracht is a Mexican/Canadian blogger, photographer and adventure expedition leader. He holds degrees in multimedia, philosophy and translation from universities in Mexico, Canada and Norway. Sign up for the Yucatán Roundup, a free newsletter, which delivers the week's top headlines every Monday.
Café Tacvba spells its name with a “v” to distinguish it from the iconic Mexico City restaurant, Café de Tacuba, founded in 1912.  Photo: Courtesy

Café Tacvba is a rock band from Ciudad Satélite in Naucalpan, Mexico. Since the forming of the band in 1989, Café Tacvba has established itself as one of the most popular rock bands in all of Latin America and has won a swath of awards including Grammys, Latin Grammys, and MTV Music awards.  

The band is led by its singer and rhythm guitarist Rubén Albarrán, known as Zopilote, Emmanuel de Real (on keyboards), Joselo Ranger on lead guitar, and Enrique Rangel on bass — all since the band’s beginnings in 1989. 

Their first, self-titled album sold 43,000 copies over a two-week period, enough to get the attention of Warner Music, which quickly decided to sign them.

Though this first album was certainly a success, it would not be until their 1994 sophomore album Re that the band would truly reach superstardom. It is not hard to understand why Re achieved the critical and commercial success that it did. Anyone unfamiliar with Mexican rock would be hard-pressed to find a better album to get started.

Café Tacvba during their MTV Unplugged show in 2019. Photo: Courtesy

After a first listen, I imagine many people would describe Re as bordering on the chaotic — it switches back and forth between genres as diverse as trova, ska, salsa, funk, and metal. It can be jarring, the band’s stellar musicianship somehow manages to make it not only work but after a few listens, even sound like a logical and organic progression.

Like much of the great art to come out of Mexico, Café Tacvba’s music can at times sounds a little surreal and eccentric — an attitude mirrored by their vocalist frontman Rubén Albarrán.

Rubén “Zopilote” Albarrán is famous across Latin America for his distinct image, easily recognizable voice, range, and onstage antics. Photo: Courtesy

Despite not being a concept album, thematically most songs on the album feel anchored to a central idea —  the joys, challenges, and beauty of love and life in Mexico. Though these themes are for the most part filtered through a very Mexico City centric “chilango” prism, they still heavily resonate with people across the country and Latin America. 

Several of the songs on the album such as “El Metro and “24 Horas paint a hectic picture of life in Mexico’s largest city. Though a little melancholic and even at times tragic, these tracks still come off as upbeat and optimistic. Tracks like “El Final de la Infanciaand “El Tlatoani del Barrio” address through their instrumentation and lyrics issues surrounding colonization and capitalism — as well as the importance of breaking free of these paradigms and forging a new future.

Studio version of “El Metro” by Café Tacvba

Set to Samba, “La Negritatells the story of a woman who after traveling and working abroad returns to her home on the coast and tells everyone she can that life in their village is best, and that nothing out there in the world can compare to fresh fish with lime. 

Studio version of “La Negrita” by Café Tacvba

Other highlights include the Latin ska-infused love song titled “Las Flores,” and “Pez”, a track coming in at just over 2 minutes that tells a story about a fish being caught, from the perspective of the fish himself. Like many other songs on the album, the upbeat musical arrangement of this later track can sometimes mask fairly gruesome themes. Another good example of this is the first song on the album, “El Aparato” —  which deals with the experience of dying while on life support. 

Studio version of “El Fin de la Infancia” by Café Tacvba

But the most famous, and also most problematic song on the entire album is its second track, titled “La Ingrata”, or ingrate in English. I am not one typically offended by lyrics in songs or art in general, but even the band themselves has recognized that the frankly insane levels of misogyny exhibited in the track are unacceptable. Café Tacvba has long ago gone as far as changing the lyrics during live performances —  which is great because the song itself is really extremely catchy. 

Re is a nearly perfect album, packed to the brim with 20 tracks that have something for just about everyone. I know that nowadays listening to entire albums from start to finish has fallen out of fashion, but here it is truly worth it. 

The complete Re album by Café Tacvba can be streamed fr free on Spotify.

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