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World Music Features

Café Tacvba

By Phil Freeman
Published January 17, 2008

For nearly two decades Mexico City's Café Tacvba have captivated audiences around the globe with their arty, introspective and ultimately life-loving music, and now they're back with Sino—their first studio album in four years, self-produced under the watchful eye of mentior and super-producer Gustavo Santaolalla. Lead vocalist Ruben Albarran and bassist Quique Rangel hold forth.

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Rubén Albarrán, Café Tacvba’s diminutive vocalist, is seated in the lobby of New York’s Roosevelt Hotel in white jeans and a white T-shirt, his hair pulled into braids on either side of his head. Resting in his lap is a custom-made white hat—like a bowler, but deep enough that when he pulls it on, it slides just over his eyes so he can peer through two holes cut out of the band. Like all the Tacubos, he’s 40 or maybe a few years past that (biographical information on the band is sketchy, and they like it that way). He’s got a son and a daughter, and he’s talking about the impact of fatherhood on his art.

“I think that I have a better connection with my feelings and with my heart,” he says, his speaking voice softer than his raucous onstage bark. “I don’t know if it’s done already, I don’t know if this connection is going to last forever, but it’s a very beautiful thing for me. It’s like you have a vision of the future and the past at the same time. There’s a lot of forgiveness to your parents. I feel very happy to be a father.”

Albarrán is known to Tacvba fans for changing his name every time the band releases an album: Pinche Juan, Cosme, Anónimo, Ñru, Gallo Gasss, Élfego Buendía, and on and on. On his debut solo album, 2006’s largely electronic Bienvenido Al Sueño (Welcome To The Dream), he was Sizu Yantra. “In my case, the solo project comes with a family,” he says, when asked how he divided songs between Tacvba’s albums and his solo work. “It was because of the family, because of becoming parents and needing to express this experience, so it was very easy. But I think if I had another solo project, it would be difficult to decide which songs go for Tacvba and which go for that. For me, there’s no separation. It’s just the things I’m feeling, and who I’m going to share this creation with. It’s what I’m doing in that moment, and the accent is on the reation.”

Albarrán is joined on the Roosevelt’s plush sofa by Enrique “Quique” Rangel, Tacvba’s bassist (and brother to guitarist Joselo Rangel), who looks a little bit like Pere Ubu vocalist David Thomas, albeit slimmer and less cranky. The discussion turns to the band’s sixth album, Sino—their first in four years. “The title means ‘destiny,’” Rangel explains. “It’s a word that is not used in Spanish often to define destiny. And [with] the spelling, you can say yes and no at the same time. It talks about destiny not as something that is sent by the gods, not as fate, but as something you can decide by taking or not taking decisions.”

Tacvba albums frequently seem like a response to the one before. Their breakthrough disc, 1994’s Re, featured 20 short, genre-hopping tracks they followed it with 1996’s Avalancha De Éxitos—a covers album that spanned an equally broad sonic range, from jittery acoustic punk to hip-hop to Mexican folk to romantic balladry. Their 1999 double CD Revés/Yo Soy was spread over one disc of instrumentals—nearly all of them numbered rather than titled—and a second disc of songs simply named for people, places, objects and events (“El Padre,” “El Río,” “El Espacio” and “Guerra,” among others). The band played with language in the disc’s title “revés” means “backwards” in Spanish, and “yo soy,” which means “I am,” is a palindrome.

The follow-up, 2003’s Cuatro Caminos (Four Roads), was a major shift from the arty, moody experimentalism of that Latin Grammy-winning opus. The band had originally planned to work with four different producers, but wound up using only three: longtime creative partner Gustavo Santaolalla, Ween collaborator Andrew Weiss and former Mercury Rev bassist Dave Fridmann, best known for his work with the Flaming Lips.

“I enjoyed the way [Fridmann] worked<