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Cafe Tacuba bounces off rock

Published September 16, 2003

Cafe Tacuba, Mexico's most progressive rock group, has always been a quartet. Or so the band claims.

But its roster suggests otherwise. Who were mysterious members Nru and Amparo Tonto Medardo In Lak'ech? Why, on each album, does the lead singer disappear, only to be replaced with somebody new? And what's with the band's latest singer, Elfego Buendia?

"What I wanted to say with this is nothing lasts forever and in every cycle I can reinvent myself," Buendia says from Los Angeles. "I can be reborn. So, this is the joke. The game. That's all."

Buendia is really Ruben Albarran, Cafe Tacuba's lead singer since its inception. Albarran has a sense of humor and, it seems, multiple personalities. He changes his name to reflect the mood of each album. For Cuatro Caminos, an ambitious, rocking affair and the band's first album on an American label (Geffen), Albarran - Buendia? - says his character is a tribute to his family.

Those wacky characters somehow fit Cafe Tacuba's eclectic sound. The band fuses punk, rock 'n' roll and traditional Mexican folk music into its signature style. It has earned comparisons to Radiohead, the Beatles and, thanks to Albarran's gritty, barked vocals, the Sex Pistols. The band rarely tours the United States, so its Tampa show is a rare treat.

"We learned to take all the things that were surrounding us to construct our music," Albarran says. "In Mexico, because we are pluri-cultural people, we are influenced by all kinds of music. You can hear Afro-Latin music everywhere you go. You can hear, like, Tex-Mex music and all the traditional music from all around the country. . . . You can have indigenous music, so there's a lot of traditional and very popular music.

"If you add to this all the music that comes from the outside, like rock, jazz, bossa nova or electronic music, you can have infinite possibilities of mixing music. So, this is what we do, basically," he says.

Critics love to label the group the de facto head of the Rock en Espanol movement, or Latin rock 'n' roll. Albarran shrugs off the praise.

"We don't think we are the head of a movement. I don't think, anyway, there is a movement because all the Latin rock bands, they have their own sound and their own mixes," he says. "I think the only thing that you can say for all of us together is that we are rock-influenced bands. . . . We think we are a very odd thing because there's no band like us."

On Cuatro Caminos, the band employed producer Dave Fridmann, whose work with bands like the Flaming Lips and Mercury Rev lent an expansive quality to the band's already layered sound. Is Cafe Tacuba priming to be accepted by the American music mainstream?

"For me . . . there are no expectations," Albarran says. "I wanted to keep on doing music that can take me for surprise. To have creative liberty and that's all. If the audience for our music grows, it's okay. But if it's not, for me, what's important is to keep liberty."

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