Although he works as a vocalist in a Chicano folk-fusion band Las Cafeteras, Hector Flores is a storyteller at heart.
“If I wasn’t doing music, I’d be doing something else with storytelling—poetry, documentaries, plays,” Flores said
Meeting new people during their residency with Sun Valley Museum of Art (SVMoA), co-founder Denise Carlos believes listening is as important as sharing.
“You are the other me, I am the other you. When we come to towns like this, where you don’t see a lot of LatinX, it becomes that much more meaningful,” Carlos said. “I can’t know my story until I hear your story ... In that moment, we become more real.”
They find eternity in songwriting.
“You keep someone alive by telling their stories,” Flores said
As a part of SVMoA’s Dia de los Muertos festivities, Las Cafeteras will perform at Wood River High School on Friday, Oct. 21, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets range $5-$40.
The show will feature excerpts from their upcoming multimedia show “Hasta La Muerte” (“Even Until Death”), incorporating theater, spoken word, dance and music from their new EP.
“It’s basically taking indigenous Mexican traditions of remembering our lost loved ones and embodying it through our perspective, our imaginations, our approach,” Flores said.
I met with the band in the lobby of the Wood River Inn after their second trip to Black Owl of the day, raving about the homemade caramel.
“This is the best mocha I’ve ever had,” Carlos said. “We are Las Cafeteras after all. The rumors are true—we love coffee.”
Flores couldn’t sit still, tapping his foot to the Beatles Sirius XM station playing over the stereo. Although it was the afternoon, I’m sure he would be the life of the party, winning over any sized crowd with an anecdote and his charismatic smile. Carlos sat on the edge of the sofa, hair vibrant, arms crossed, listening closely to each question, thinking deeply about her answers.
I asked what they look for in touring musicians.
“Stamina, no ego. Kind of good looking. No sideburns,” Flores said.
“I bleach mine,” Carlos said.
“They have to be better than me,” Flores said.
“Make me look good,” Carlos said.
“They have to be a badass at their craft,” Flores said.
“A sense of humor,” Carlos said.
“No. I don’t like everybody’s sense of humor. Everyone’s funny—whether they’re funny to me is a whole other story,” Flores said.
The band plays authentic instruments like the eight-string Jarana, four-string Requinto and Quijada (donkey jawbone). Carlos creates rhythm while dancing on the Tarima (wooden pallet). They incorporate synthesizers and drum pads for their righteous anthems.
“We’re from LA, and it’s 2022—we got to compete with Kendrick Lamar. It’s a new day, man. Lizzo’s out here dropping hits. We got to do a big show,” Flores said.
They are collaborating with a local folkloric dance group. Over time, they have evolved their traditional Son Jarocho music to be more inclusive.
“When you can dance to a song, you feel you’re part of it in an unspoken way,” Flores said.
He referred to himself as the Flavor Flav of Las Cafeteras, “minus the toxic masculinity.
“I’m not the best singer, I’m not the best performer, but I love connecting with folks and building a neighborhood the community wants to see, then on macro scale, the kind of country we want to have,” Flores said.
He grew up on Tupac.
“He was a poet of the people. I was most drawn to his communal messages,” Flores said. “You can be this really rugged character and then you can also just be very vulnerable. Even though I can’t sing, I embody a lot of soul in what I do.”
It’s not quite clear if they are musicians who do social work or social workers who happen to play music.
“For me, music was always a way to connect and build with people,” Flores said. ”Not everybody wants to talk politics, but everybody’s down to hear a song, do a little two step ... How do you build a world where many worlds fit?”
They will also perform at the Hunger Coalition’s free community craft-making event Saturday, Oct. 22, at 1 p.m.
Dia de los Muertos is usually a busy time of year for Las Cafeteras.
“How do we still make this a meaningful time for us?” Carlos said. “It doesn’t have to be an altar in your living room. As artists, we also offer those things with our songs, with our bodies.”
Those who honor Dia de los Muertos often build altars for those who have died.
“You’re hosting a party for them,” Carlos said. “It’s almost like Santa Claus. You put out the cookies and the milk, and they’re gonna come and you’re gonna eat and drink and know that we’re still here celebrating them.”
About six years ago, Flores lost his father.
“No one can prepare you for losing someone really close, especially a parent,” Flores said. “How do you celebrate someone’s life in their death?
“Day of the Dead allows you to go through grief in a way that doesn’t equate sadness. It doesn’t equate darkness ... Death is not the end. It’s just the beginning. Death is actually the birth of so much more. It could be a family coming together again.”
He adorns his father’s altar with a Dodgers cap and a drink.
Growing up, the concept of death was never hidden from Carlos.
“We’re also in the habit of being ashamed of sadness, being ashamed of grief, not really creating a healthy relationship with it, not knowing how to deal with it when someone’s going through it.” Carlos said. “It’s the most natural thing to be born and to die, but we have a really hard time with that. How do we make it easier? How do we make it more gentle? How do we hold space for it? It’s urgent, it’s painful. When we put things away, and we hide things, that’s when we hurt ourselves the most.”
She would travel to Mexico for family funerals.
“There’s kids running around, there’s dogs running around, there’s mariachis ... laughing and food and tears,” Carlos said. “It’s okay to remember in sadness, it’s okay to laugh, it’s okay to have these like stories of these people, and hold each other’s grief and sadness. Because that’s not weakness, it’s actually healing.”
Flores is the oldest of six siblings.
“I’m close to my family,” Flores said. The day is going to come and not everybody’s going to be here.”
At times, Carlos is in awe of families like his.
“When I think of family, I think of longing, I think of separation, I think of lack of connection. It doesn’t really evoke a comfort in me,” Carlos said. “When I think of family I think [about how] we could have had more.’”
If there can be joy in death, there can also be sadness in living.
“We come from generational beauty and generational trauma,” Carlos said.
She grew up with half her family in Mexico. Her parents were undocumented for most of her childhood.
“There was a cultural difference that was really heavy in the room sometimes,” Carlos said. “We have a communal wound and a familial wound that we must tend to.”
Her first language was Spanish.
“I learned it at home,” Carlos said. “Because it’s my family’s language, it was less superficial. You talk about your feelings. You talk about your memories.”
Once school started, everything was in English.
“My emotional energy is in Spanish,” Carlos said. But the way I communicate academically, intellectually is in English.”
She finds it easier to write songs in Spanish.
“When I try to write songs in English, ... I feel very limited. I feel very dry, very cold. When I’m writing a song to evoke a feeling, Spanish is like home for me. I feel in Spanish,” Carlos said.
She grew up on Gwen Stefani and Tori Amos.
“Wild women really inspire me,” Carlos said. “What I saw in them was that they were free. That was so exciting to me. When you push the boundaries as an artist, I’m really intrigued. And I’m really appreciative ... I grew up very by-the-book, very disciplined. I still am in many ways. When I perform, I’ve evolved into an artist or performer that becomes free.”
Above all else, they just want to create a better world for future generations.
“It’s my duty to create healthy circles,” Carlos said. “For children that come after us, we have to be the example of accepting all emotions or feelings, always of passing down these stories. That’s how we learn to be better, and that’s how we heal ourselves.”
She has learned family is not a destined parameter, but a matter of free will.
“It’s been important to create family,” Carlos said. “Friends have become family. My band is my family, my husband, our pets, our community is our family. When you have the power to create the family around you, it’s a beautiful thing.” ￼