After over two decades as international music icons, the Mexican bandmates of Café Tacvba have adopted myriad identities. They’ve been hard rockers, folk singers and experimental artists. In their latest album, Jei Beibi, they’re timely, poetic, border-transcending social critics.
“We are very careful not to address political issues in a direct way,” says bassist Enrique “Quique” Rangel. As one of the founding members of Café Tacvba (pronounced Café Tacuba), he’s developed a keen understanding of their music's potential impact. The band will perform at Deep Ellum's Bomb Factory tonight. Doors open at 7 p.m.
“We are four individuals with different views of life,” he says. “But at the same time, we think that our place as musicians in a society is to address things that we are concerned about.”
After all, Café Tacvba is a global sensation with a huge platform and a prominent voice. What’s the point if they don’t say something with it?
This is the question at the heart of Jei Beibi. Based out of Mexico City, the four-piece band — Rangel, lead singer Rubén Albarrán, keyboardist Emmanuel “Meme” Del Real and lead guitarist Jose Alfredo “Joselo” Rangel — draw inspiration from internal and external struggles, personal traumas and current events.
In Jei Beibi, an existential crisis plays out as three minutes of sparse, cryptic poetry in “Futuro.” “1-2-3” is a reflection on the recent disappearances of political activists in Mexico disguised as a sunny love song. Throughout the record, obsessive passion and crushing loss are woven into thumping bass lines and Albarrán’s vocals.
Everything in Jei Beibi is oversaturated, cranked up to 11, inspired by either the melodramatic bliss of hyperbole or the complete absurdity of the real world.
“We’re not saying we must do this, we must do that, but more like we should be aware about what is happening,” says Rangel. “We don’t have an answer, but we know there is a problem.”
Café Tacvba doesn’t aim to be overtly political or provocative — not really. It’s more like they’re hyper-aware of the current state of the world as they grapple with evergreen, existential questions, and all of that spilled into one album. Knowing that music isn’t limited by borders, political or cultural, made Jei Beibi a more effective album, its reach more expansive.
And as for any specific borders in question? Well, give it a guess.
“We are not bad hombres,” says Rangel with a laugh. “Our music is the same if we play in Mexico or Argentina or the States or Japan. ... We think it’s a great honor to go to the United States and have the chance to do what we do.”
Like in Mexico, Café Tacvba has a huge, diverse fan base in the United States. They’re popular among Mexican immigrants and Latinos, but they also appeal to folks who like rock music in general. There’s a healthy, growing demand for the band across the country, especially in Texas.
From politics to language to pop culture, Mexico and the U.S. have a complex, contentious history. And yet in spite of this — or more likely because of it — the U.S.-Mexico relationship has had a rich, undeniable influence on artists from both sides of the border.
That influence is all over Café Tacvba’s latest work, including Jei Beibi and the supporting tour, the “Niu Güeis Tur,” across the U.S. and Mexico. Café Tacvba’s Mexican heritage, and its prolonged exposure to American pop culture, is evident throughout. Within the record’s first half alone, an homage to '80s glam rock makes way for a Latin jazz ballad, only to be immediately followed by stints in psychedelic rock and Son Mexicano (a folk musical style traditionally from southern Mexico).
“We’re a city south of border,” Rangel says. “But this is one of the things that Café Tacvba is — the expression of different sounds that we translate into our own.”
Perhaps the most obvious example of this cultural fluidity is in the record title. “Jei beibi” is essentially elegant gibberish, but you have to say it out loud to get it: It’s a phonetic Spanish-language approximation of “Hey, baby” in English. Same with “Niu güeis tur”: “New Ways Tour.”
“Jei beibi” is a bit of a tongue-in-cheek joke by the band, but it’s also a nod to our increasingly interconnected world. It’s a reaction to the hybrid identities created by the same existentialism and politics that the album tackles across its 13 tracks.
“When we started to develop our music, we were and still are making music for people like us, who speak Spanish and dream in Spanish,” Rangel says. But their reach is growing and audiences are changing, as there are more Mexicans and Latinos who may speak English or more fans who may not have any Latin American heritage.
“With Jei Beibi, we’re also trying to give more attention to the people we’re starting to sing to now,” he says.
Plan your life
Café Tacvba performs at the Bomb Factory, 2713 Canton St., Dallas, on Wednesday, Sept. 20. thebombfactory.com.