Mexican quartet Café Tacvba was once at the forefront of a musical revolution that shook Latin American rock to its core, seemingly poised to take over the world with its fusion of mainstream Anglo idioms with soulful indigenous roots and the poetry of the Spanish language. Albums by Tacvba, Aterciopelados and Babasónicos were as ambitious as anything by Radiohead or the White Stripes.
Two decades on, although Latin rock has lost ground to urban flavored pop and the almighty reggaetón beat the La Tocada festival at Los Angeles State Historic Park on Saturday will anchor a day of music around Café Tacvba’s headlining set. La Tocada will show that even though the majority of radio hits south of the border pulsate with the bouncy thump of reggaetón, or more tropical formats like bachata and cumbia that have gained popularity in the last decade, the spirit of rock shines and breathes in the neighborhoods of major cities, from Buenos Aires to Bogotá, Colombia, and Mexico City.
“I believe we’re experiencing a fascinating moment of transition,” says Emmanuel del Real, Tacvba’s keyboardist and one of its principal composers. “Rock as a genre — although not as an attitude — has mutated into something else. When we were starting out in the late ’80s, the path of musical experimentation, the dissonance of your electric guitar, led to a discourse fueled by anger and reflection. All those elements ended up informing the music that you would create.
“Today, feelings of rage are more closely associated with your Facebook or Twitter account than with music. Why aren’t there more rock albums with eight or 10 awe-inspiring tracks on them? Because I don’t think people have the time to listen to them.”
As one of the genre’s veterans, Tacvba has enjoyed the luxury of releasing excellent full-length albums as recently as 2012’s “El Objeto Antes Llamado Disco” and 2017’s “Jei Beibi.” The group’s music has matured and incorporated a dizzying variety of styles — always Latin rock’s greatest virtue. But as Del Real says, the members of Tacvba are very much aware that the cultural landscape is shifting right before their eyes.
“It’s a good challenge to be kicked out of your comfort zone,” he said. “At the very least, you are obligated to observe the changes and realize that the old structures of three decades ago are history. In a way, I see rock being replaced by reggaetón in spirit. It’s a new way of communicating, and it’s massive.”
“Latin rock has dissipated,” adds Aníbal Kerpel, the Los Angeles-based producer and sound engineer from Argentina who, together with Gustavo Santaolalla, launched the careers of artists such as Tacvba, Juanes and Julieta Venegas. “There are still good records coming out, and I’m always happy to mix a new album by a talented rock songwriter. As a movement, I’ve lost interest in it. But as horrible things continue to happen in Latin America on the social, economic and political fronts, I’m sure all that anger will eventually be channeled through music. Sometimes I think our expectations are just too high. You can’t have an artistic renaissance in every single decade.”
A festival such as La Tocada could boost the presence of rock in Latin music and gain it many new fans.
The lineup reflects a fresh approach, devoid of prejudice or easy categorizations. The bands will appear on two stages, with Tacvba sharing the bill with Mexican pop-rock duo Jesse & Joy — by far the event’s most accessible act — and Mon Laferte, a Chilean singer-songwriter whose music is informed by jazzy torch songs, steamy boleros and a touch of the blues. Also present: the ska and reggae grooves of Mexico City’s Panteón Rococó and the virulent sonic attack of Molotov, a veteran Mexican quartet that combines rap with metal and scathing political commentary.
“The idea behind La Tocada is to have real bands tearing it up onstage, playing their instruments and performing songs that they wrote themselves,” said John Frias, the festival’s founder and producer. “We booked artists that we love, instead of going top 40. Also, the second stage allows us to invite bands from other countries that may not otherwise have the opportunity to play in the U.S. We’re hoping La Tocada will allow fans to discover a bunch of new sounds.”
Laferte is certainly an artist who deserves mainstream exposure, and a recent duet with Juanes (the seductive “Amárrame”) provided a step in the right direction. At age 35, she is the poster child for everything being a Latin rock artist signifies in 2018: Far from relying on a single style, her soaring vocals are framed by eclectic touches of South American folk, bossa nova, the wide-eyed naiveté of ’60s guitar lines and melodramatic flourishes of retro orchestral pop.
“I believe I’m very much a rocker,” she says with a laugh. “I don’t think rock has anything to do with distortion or dressing in black. It would be a mistake to see it that way. Rock is about going beyond, experimenting, being a rebel. I’ve always been rebellious in my attitude towards life. I love playing festivals, surrounded by all these dudes with their testosterone and electric guitars. I’m usually the only woman. To present yourself in front of an audience that is more interested in looking at your legs than listening to your music... I don’t think it gets any more rock ’n’ roll than that.”
There are plans for La Tocada to expand next year, including a third stage and a richer lineup.
In the meantime, anyone with a cursory knowledge of Latin music and its ability to generate new movements — from the surreal psychedelia of Brazilian tropicália in the late ’60s and Argentina’s obsession with prog-rock in the ’70s to the fusion of folk genres with electronica in the new millennium — will tell you that sooner than later, Latin rock is bound to reinvent itself and surprise us all.
“Some people say that the era of the great rock album is over,” says Tacvba’s Del Real. “But maybe there’s a new revolution gestating somewhere and we’re not even aware of it. It’ll be like the arrival of grunge, or some sort of punk revival. Then we’ll talk about it and admit that we failed to appreciate it at the time. It was brewing all along. We just didn’t see it coming.”
When: 2 p.m. Saturday
Where: Los Angeles State Historic Park, 1245 N Spring St.
Cost: $69-$199, not including fees