When Café Tacuba came out of nowhere (Mexico City, to be exact) in 1992, few realized that we were witnessing the arrival of the New Messiahs of Spanish-language rock.
“I think they’re ridiculous,” a then-prominent LA deejay from Argentina told me. This same person refused to play Mexican music at his club because “we don’t want the club full of those people.”
OK, the guy was kind of deaf and a racist prick, but in a way you can’t blame him: Café Tacuba had a singer with a raunchy voice, charro hat, campesino sandals, and a different moniker for each new album (Ruben Albarrán); a bassist, Joselo Rangel, playing a tololoche (acoustic stand-up bass); a guitarist (Quique Rangel) who had a simple Spanish acoustic guitar instead of a Fender Stratocaster; and a drummer that … well, there was no drummer: Emmanuel Del really did everything with a drum machine.
It wasn’t until Cuatro caminos (2003) that the band surprised everyone by doing the unthinkable: adding real drums and electric guitar. The change only proved that Tacuba’s status as critics’ darlings was intact and that the foursome could shine in whatever format they chose to play.
It was once said that Maldita Vecindad’s El circo (1991) was Mexican rock’s Sgt. Pepper, and that Café Tacuba’s Re (1994) the White Album (though it was red, actually). But the new Tacuba album, Sino (released on October 9), is Café Tacuba outdoing itself. It sounds as if The Who, The Beatles, Depeche Mode, the Beach Boys, Pink Floyd and the Sex Pistols fell into a huge blender at a mom-and-pop bakery in Mexico City.
“Well, I like it more than Cuatro caminos, that’s for sure,” Albarrán (named “Ixxi xoo” for this album) says in Spanish, laughing as if there was something embarrassing about the Grammy-winning Cuatro. When pressed, he backtracks: “I like the album, but in this one we … we …”
We kicked ass, he should’ve said. With Victor Indrizzo (Beck) on drums, the Tacubos recorded an epic album that not only dwarfs the competition, but annihilates it. Maná may sell more records, Soda Stereo’s influence may be more easily acknowledged, but when it comes down strictly to music, no one can touch Tacuba.
“It’s one of the 10 best bands in the world in any genre or language, period,” according to two-time Oscar winner Gustavo Santaolalla, who “discovered” and produced most of Tacuba’s
And, who knows? They may even go back to the early days.
“It’s hard to go back to the drum machine, isn’t it?” Albarrán says. “The power of a real drum is unparalleled, incredible. But that doesn’t mean we’ll never use a drum machine again.”
Even though they’ve never been overtly political, on every Tacuba album their biting humor has debunked left and right alike, but this time the targets are more specific.
In “Gracias,” the band uses sarcasm to thank who-knows-who for “the democracy and freedoms” that we enjoy. Is it Bush, is it Mexico’s government? Probably both.
“If the glove fits, put it on,” Albarrán says. “Unfortunately, Mexico has been divided in a terrible way. Obviously, that’s the game politicians play: to divide us. And we put on T-shirts that don’t have anything to do with us. How can we be divided for any stupid thing instead of finding a point of encounter?”
But more than any other album, Sino (a ying-yang-ish wordplay between “if not” and “yes/no,” among other combinations) is an album about real freedom, not the one that the “free world” wants us to believe in.
“In terms of countries, I don’t believe there is such a thing as ‘freedom,’” he says. “There are too many circumstances that don’t allow us to have freedom, and they’re always cheating us with that so-called ‘freedom.’ The only freedom we can aspire to is inner freedom. And the United States, supposedly the great nation of freedom, has one of the most abused and slave-like peoples in the world.”
Santaolalla once told me that out of all the artists he’s ever recorded, only Café Tacuba would spend breaks in the studio reading books. Maybe that’s why Café Ttacuba sounds so good: they make fun music, but they don’t eat shit. •
TACUBA ON TOUR: Café Tacuba comes to Austin on December 6 (La Zona Rosa), Dececember 7 in Houston (Warehouse Live) and December 9 in McAllen (Civic Center Auditorium). Of course, they won’t come to SA. “You’re not surprised, are you?,” asked John Pantle, Tacuba’s booking agent and a big fan of local promoters.
SODA STEREO UPDATE: The great Argentine trio’s reunion tour is spreading like wildfire everywhere, except in the USA. Only Los Angeles (November 21) and Miami (December 5, which is selling like crazy) have secured dates. Go to sodastereo.com and check for constant updates.