Las Cafeteras brings powerful message, unique sounds to campus

The clacking of metal shoes on a wooden platform filled the air. The dancer, hopping, swaying and clapping, belted a powerful melody.

The band — made up of a quijada (the jawbone of a donkey), various types of ukuleles and a drum kit — joined in.

The crowd raised up from their seats and two-stepped with the beat.

Almost unexpectedly, the upbeat song takes on a mournful tone. With the mention of Trayvon Martin’s name, the room grows silent. The rap, empowering in sound, calls for change.

Las Cafeteras originates from east Los Angeles, but formed at Wichita State Thursday night. The band members identified themselves as Chicanos, meaning children of immigrants who grew up in America. Their musical style, a mash-up between traditional Son Jarocho music from Veracruz, Mexico, and non-traditional modern styles, like hip-hop, was like nothing the audience had heard before.

“We don’t really fit into one genre,” percussionist Jose Cano said. “There’s a lot of different elements we take from. The best way we’ve been able to classify it is Afro-Mexican, urban folk music.”

Junior Eddie Sandoval, president of the Hispanic American Leadership Organization (HALO) on campus, said the unique sound and powerful message was unexpected.

“They were able to tie in cool and modern songs with the old music, and actually educate at the same time about politics and culture,” he said. “I thought that was unique. It was eye-opening.”

While their music may be unique, their message — a call to action to end racism, discrimination and police brutality — resonated with the masses.

Minorities dying at the hands of white police officers have sparked outrage in many communities.

Band members said they want listeners to know that similar issues, such as stereotyping and discrimination, has affected their community, and they are willing to stand up against it.

“There’s a real value in being able to talk about your history and tell your story,” Cano said. “Our communities do more than sell drugs, eat tacos and drive low-riders. There’s a lot more that goes on. We’re real people with real love, real intentions and real dreams.”

Cano said they use music to share their identity with listeners. They incorporate discussions about controversial topics, such as the need for a presidential candidate to relate to an audience and spark conversation.

Danielle Johnson, program coordinator for the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, said she invited the band to WSU because she was inspired by their powerful message. She said they have an undeniable ability to tell stories and start conversations about real issues facing minority groups.

“They’re interested in a lot of different movements, so you can tell that they’re activists for social justice movements,” she said. “They’re full of substance, and I really enjoy that.”

Johnson said the band’s message matched that of ODI.

“They talked about a lot of things that are going on in the black community,” she said. “They aren’t afraid to talk about women’s rights or LGBTQ rights, and that is our office. We’re unapologetic about the work we do. We’re not afraid to have those discussions, even though people are uncomfortable, we want to be able to facilitate that, and I think that’s what the band does.”

Cano said the band is inclusive of everyone, and he hopes all listeners feel welcome to join the conversation.

“We want everybody to tell their story,” he said. “We want people to talk about who they are, to talk about their families, their people and the struggles of their communities. That’s the message we have in our music.”