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Cafe Con Tequila Bring the Latin-ska Party to SJ

In Music
DOUBLE SHOT: Latin influences and a DIY approach have helped Cafe Con Tequila find success.

DOUBLE SHOT: Latin influences and a DIY approach have helped Cafe Con Tequila find success.

Eleven years ago, the ska scene in the Lincoln Heights neighborhood of East Los Angeles was nonexistent. And so, when drummer Francisco Rodriguez and guitarist Luis Fematt formed Cafe Con Tequila, they had few expectations. They just wanted to pay homage to the sounds of their youth.

“We all grew up listening to bands like No Doubt and Sublime, but there weren’t any bands in our area that played ska or reggae,” Rodriguez explains. “And that’s pretty much how it started—with an idea to start something, bring new music to our area and hope that people liked it.”

Their plan worked—and then some. According to Rodriguez, his band not only found success with their formula, they helped rekindle interest in a sound that had largely faded in popularity after its late-’90s heyday.

“I guess you can say we inspired people to start their own projects, and many of the bands that started after us have been successful,” Rodriguez says, noting the half-dozen or so ska bands that grew out of Lincoln Heights alone in the decade following the launch of Cafe Con Tequila. “But nobody took it to the next level like we did, and it worked out for us: We’ve gotten so many opportunities to play big shows and events over the years because we were leading it all.”

He says Cafe Con Tequila’s Latin flair and DIY approach were integral components to their rise.

Rodriguez and Fematt first resolved to emulate their SoCal ska-punk idols in 2005, while in their high school’s band class. Blending a wide variety of musical genres—from reggae to metal to punk—with Latin rhythms, the pair began crafting a distinct sound, which would ultimately form the foundation of Cafe Con Tequila. The trademark staccato rhythms of ska and reggae merge with vocalist Gilbert Ascenscio’s fluid English and Spanish vocals, which further contrast with the frenetic and fast-paced chorus of brass instruments that weave in and out of Cafe Con Tequila’s tracks.

Cafe Con Tequila return to their DIY roots this weekend, when they play a house show—their first in five years—on San Jose’s East Side. Local ska bands Bangalore and Fulminante open.

The nine-piece lineup, consisting of drummer John Vallejo, bassist Angel Rodriguez, trombonist Josie Quintanilla, saxophonist Juan Lopes, trumpet players Crystal Campos and Victor Venegas, plus Rodriguez, Fematt and Ascencio, will perform a range of songs from their decade-long career, including standouts like “Buskando” and “Conejo” from their eponymous 2014 release.

Drummer Rodriguez explains that the band took the chance to play the one-off house show because they’ve never played in San Jose before. “We thought we should give the house show a shot since it’ll be a great opportunity to play somewhere new and share our music with a different crowd,” he says, adding that the band hopes their San Jose show will be the first of many more performances in the coming year. With only one full-length release in their discography, the band anticipates recording a new album in the next few months, and are aiming for a release date in late 2017.

“We really want to take our time, but a new album is in the works,” Rodriguez says. “We have the music, the ideas, all our stuff written down, so it’s just a matter of getting the time to get it all together.”

Getting things together may seem like a challenge for a band with nine members, but Cafe Con Tequila has boiled the songwriting process down to three key members—vocalist Ascencio, lead guitarist Fernatt and drummer Rodriguez—who work on the “writing and rhythm” for each song before the rest of the group gives their input.

“Everyone has the opportunity to bring new ideas to the table and put their own touches on the music,” Rodriguez says. “That’s worked for us since we started, but I try to keep the process open to changes and new ideas.”

Cafe Con Tequila
Jan 21, 8pm, $10
14050 Diamond Ave., San Jose

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