That Café Tacuba, one of Latin rock’s most revered and perpetually radical bands, is returning to Miami for the first time in four years for a festival celebrating ecological awareness is partly practical – but mostly philosophical.
On the practical side, Tacuba’s headlining set on Saturday night at the Friends of Nature (FON) Fest on Key Biscayne is a matter of a gig coming at the right time, as they finish a tour of Latin America, and look forward to the Latin Grammys on Nov. 21, where their latest album, El Objeto Antes Llamado Disco (The Object Formerly Called a Record), called one of the best recordings of 2012 by NPR and the L.A. Times, is nominated for Best Alternative Album.
But more importantly, FON Fest fits right in with Tacuba’s growing concern with environmental issues. Their current show is divided into thematic sections celebrating the four elements of earth, air, fire and water.
"For me it’s perfect," says Rubén Albarrán, Tacuba’s intense, diminutive frontman, from Santiago, Chile. "In greater or lesser ways we’ve all gotten more conscious of [environmental issues]. And not just us – many people have become conscious that our way of life is not sustainable."
Albarrán, in particular, has devoted himself to alternative philosophies and environmental causes, studying and spending time with Buddhists and indigenous groups in Latin America.
"There is a lot of consciousness and love very specifically for mother earth, which brought out in me the awareness that we don’t live on a dead planet," he says. "The planet is a living being – our mother who gives us her water, her oxygen… So we always have to be grateful to our mother."
His awareness of and sympathy for indigenous cultures has led Albarrán to work with a campaign to protect ancient traditions and the environment in Mexico. The Wixarica are an indigenous tribe which for thousands of years has traveled to a site they call Wirikuta, in an arid, hilly region near San Luis de Potosi. They are currently fighting the Mexican government and a Canadian mining company which wants to build silver mines in the area.
Building the mines would not only destroy an ancient spiritual tradition crucial to the Wirikuta culture, says Albarrán, but wreak environmental havoc.
"These are sacred places," he says. "They don’t live there but they’ve been doing a pilgrimage for thousands of kilometers through the desert, it’s essential to how they live as a people… [the mines] would contaminate the area, the water, the earth, and leave the area totally destroyed."
Over the almost quarter century since Tacuba formed in Mexico City’s nascent underground rock scene, they’ve gone from obscure rebels to revered godfathers of rock en español. Not only do they continue to wow Latin American audiences with their dense, edgy, and wildly varied music, but they’ve made a rare crossover to the American alternative scene, playing major events like the Coachella and SXSW festivals and earning comparisons to the Beatles and Radiohead.
But status hasn’t turned Tacuba stale. The original four members - Albarrán, keyboard player Emanuel "Meme" del Real, guitarist Jose "Joselo" Rangel and his brother, bassist Enrique "Quique" Rangel - are the same. But they are perpetually experimenting and exploring, in part because their success gives them the freedom to follow their own creative rhythms.
They tend to take four to five years between albums. While around two are spent in promoting and touring, they also take at least a year to rest, spend time with their families, work on other projects with other people and generally rejuvenate and get re-inspired.
"Meme and Quique really like to produce, I really like to read and write," Albarrán says. "We realize other projects, work with other musicians, and get to know different ways of working. Or we just travel and listen to other kinds of music."
When they come back together to create a new album – a process that can take a year - they bring all those experiences and sounds with them.
"Each time we get together we talk about where we are in this moment, what the group means, what we’re listening to and feeding ourselves with," Albaran says. "The result is that we’re always taking new paths. So at the moment we get together we pour all this into Café Tacuba. This helps us get different results. Even if we might want to repeat ourselves, we can’t do the same thing twice in a row. Above all, it comes from the heart. We try to be as honest as we can."