As the weather starts to take a turn for the sunny and warm (it’ll be this way for probably two weeks before it’s just brutal heat every day), afternoons become perfect for lying around lazily while listening to reggae music. As such, I’d like to offer up a great addition to summer sunshine listening: Los Cafres.
Los Cafres feature as a leading exponent of Argentine reggae, and are notable as much for their longevity and persistence as their music. Originally formed in 1987, Los Cafres actually broke up and scattered to the winds in the early 90s due to a lack of attention. Finding gigs to be scarce and having trouble getting a record produced, the band had planned to call it quits. In 1992, however, the group’s constituent members returned to Buenos Aires (some from as far away as Canada), and picked up where they had left off. From 1992 to the present day the group has toured and recorded tirelessly, releasing ten studio albums and playing everywhere from tiny clubs and pubs to the football (soccer) stadium at Luna Park. With their Argentine answer to Jamaican roots reggae, the group have been producing a high-quality Spanish-language tropical sound now for more than twenty years. And it seems unlikely the group has any plans to stop.
Los Cafres’ sound rests on an easygoing foundation of softly-played drums, bass guitar, and guitar skanking. There is rarely anything fancy about this rhythm section, but with this style of music and songwriting, consistency is more important than flash. Melodically the group is led by the smooth crooning of Guillermo Bonetto, whose voice never seems stretched or tense, but always pulls his lyrics along like a blanket covering the listener in his mellow lyrics and melodies. Punctuating Los Cafres’ music are their horns, comprised of Manuel Castaño and Guillermo “Willy” Rangone. It is the horns, and to a lesser extent keyboards, that really sets Los Cafres apart from any other paint-by-numbers roots reggae group. When such inventive and well-placed arrangements are laid over a solid reggae base and easily approachable vocals the result is a highly listenable and enjoyable sound that is every bit as applicable for dancing as rocking in a hammock. This is quite possibly as laid-back as music can get.
The majority of Los Cafres’ lyrical content could be classified as romantic, with love songs such as “Si el Amor se Cae” and “Dulce Muñequita” ranking among the bands’ greatest successes. Having said that, thematically the band has spanned a wide range, from the historical (“Pirata Colón”) to the machismo-laden (“Objeto Sexual”) to the educational (“Dreadlocks” no es una moda). Despite the broad spectrum of the groups’ lyrical content, it’s interesting to note that there is little change over time; though over the years a political song here or a deep roots rasta song there have appeared, for roughly two decades Los Cafres have been singing soft reggae love songs to their fans. The group’s look has certainly shifted, with the members having shaved their dreadlocks, but 2011’s El Paso Gigante is marked by the same style that Los Cafres have called their own since their debut Frecuencia Cafre in 1994.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Los Cafres is their relative obscurity outside of South America. By any standards, Los Cafres are a very talented reggae band, and were signed to Kingston (Jamaica)-based Tuff Gong Records until 2007, but are virtually unknown to most of the world. This is the true rationale behind my selection of this group for this piece, as though clearly somebody listens to Los Cafres, but nobody I know is. While this is certainly puzzling, I hope that my writing this contributes to the exchange of music, so that people in North America may start listening to the Argentine reggae band that covers Michael Jackson.
Los Cafres are still very much an active group, having released their latest album last year, and can be found through their official website and on twitter @loscafres. Nobody is listening to Los Cafres right now, but their relaxed brand of roots reggae should put them on anyone’s Summertime playlist, and the shocking disparity between their success at home and lack thereof internationally is something that should be corrected in a world made so small by globalization and the internet. Los Cafres are not Bob Marley, but to expect as much would be to miss the point. These are just a group of Argentines who love reggae (and beautiful women) and have been singing about it for twenty years.