There are many ways to understand why Mexican alt-rock band Café Tacuba decided to end a long recording hiatus with another set of covers instead of original songs. Exactly why depends on who's talking. Bassist Quique Rangel jokingly concedes that even when the band doesn't consider the strategy of coming back with covers, "that may well be possible in the future."
The joke is that Café Tacuba has done it twice already. The first time, the band from Mexico City released an all-covers CD in 1996 to follow up its acclaimed 1994 album Re. That covers album, Avalancha de Éxitos (Avalanche of Hits), was a big-time hit in Latin America, where Café Tacuba played thirteen countries in a 59-date tour that proved it deserved the alternative-icon status it won on MTV. In 1999 Tacuba moved in a more radical direction, releasing the musically superb and still unparalleled double album Revés/Yo Soy; it didn't sell as much as the record company might have hoped, but no one who's heard it cares.
Three years have passed since Revés set new boundaries for Latin American pop and there's still some time to kill before we will hear any new songs from the band. While prepping another attack from a new base -- after leaving Warner it was signed in the United States by MCA -- Café Tacuba has released Vale Callampa, a four-song EP tribute to Nineties Chilean band Los Tres that will pave the way to the next album with new material, expected April 2003.
Singer Rubén Albarrán, who now has a new artistic name -- Rita Cantalagua -- also jokes about why Tacuba did this unexpected tribute to Los Tres. "We didn't choose them, they chose us," he whispers, impersonating a romantic crooner. "We felt bad when they broke up, and we have always enjoyed their music, so we decided to salute what's left, that is, their songs."
The singer doesn't see a method in the covers-making madness either, only pleasure. "We really have fun doing it," he says. Especially because the author is not present, notes keyboardist Emmanuel Del Real: "We can break it down to pieces to rebuild it with our input." Tacuba's take on its Chilean peers' music is thrilling, at least according to ex-Los Tres lead singer Alvaro Henríquez. "Aren't they incredible?" he marvels. "We are good friends, but I never expected such honor."
Del Real swears that it's always easier to do covers than proper Café Tacuba songs, and that's why they use covers to warm up. Guitarist Joselo Rangel, the only member of the band to take advantage of the spare time and release a solo project last year, his debut Oso, says that there are a lot of differences between the first covers album and the tribute to Los Tres. He talks about the musical departure established by Revés as a brutal contrast to Avalancha's covers, and promises Tacuba fans that changes won't be so drastic this time.
"Avalancha and Revés are far from one another. We did lots of touring and went through a lot of things before concentrating in Revés," he explains. "Now everything seems to be part of the same packaging, Los Tres' covers and the new songs that we've been working at the same time." Joselo Rangel says that the unreleased material has taken over Café Tacuba's past, with some songs following Revés' experimental path, and some of them harking back to the easy spontaneity of the group's first two records.
In the meantime, Vale Callampa can satisfy cravings for something new. "Café Tacuba Vale Callampa!" someone in the audience screamed at the band while Café was visiting Chile. Translation: Café Tacuba, it's worth ... well, who knows? The musicians still don't know for sure what the dude meant -- Chilean translators concluded that it was a defiant "Café Tacuba is worth nothing!" But the slogan sounded irresistible anyway.
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