Great Music From Mexico, via NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts: Café Tacvba

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Oct. 12, 2018 | Felix Contreras — It’s appropriate that the pioneering Mexican band Café Tacvba (Tacuba) start its set with “Olita del Altamar” (“Waves from the High Seas”) from the group’s 2012 album El Objeto Antes Llamado Disco. It’s essentially an incantation of the magic that transpired during their performance behind Bob Boilen’s desk. The lyrics sing of the comings and goings of waves, symbolic of the passage of time and fueled by the Mexican folk rhythm son jarocho, a favorite of the band’s since their start almost 30 years ago.

They then fast forward to “Diente de León” (“Dandelion”), from their 2017 album Jei Beibi. It’s a majestic, stripped-down version that puts the emphasis back on the lyric, a plea for existential and environmental harmony using the metaphor of the weedy flower.

As usual, lead vocalist Rubén Albarrán is a captivating central presence, evoking a sense of down-home camaraderie with his ever friendly smile that has become the band’s most outward image. Having seen the band play in front of dedicated fans in massive stadiums in Mexico City, it’s striking to see his movements limited to a few careful spins and dance steps while still managing to embody the intense energy of their music.

Their song “Las Flores,” from their 1994 album Re, slips into the ska groove that attracted fans to rock en Español in general and to Los Tacvbas in particular, a beat that captures the adventurous musical energy that swept all of Latin America in the early 1990s.

Not all bands would end their set with a power ballad, though very few bands hold their audience’s attention and dedication like Café Tacvba. But that’s just how they close their set, the four principal members together for almost 30 years, casting a musical spell that still captivates after all this time.

Set List
“Olita del Altamar”
“Diente de León”
“Las Flores”
“Que No”

Credits
Producers: Felix Contreras, Morgan Noelle Smith; Creative Director: Bob Boilen; Audio Engineer: Josh Rogosin; Videographers: Morgan Noelle Smith, Kara Frame, Kaylee Domzalski, CJ Riculan; Production Assistant: Brie Martin; Photo: Cameron Pollack/NPR

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