Ed. note: As long as humans have been making music, it’s been used as a form of protest. As part of KQED Arts’ 100 Days project, documenting artists’ responses to our new administration in its earliest days, I’ve asked musicians to get in touch with songs they’ve written or recorded that serve as reactions to our current political climate. Over the next couple months, I’ll be highlighting the most compelling entries I receive, along with a few words from the artist about their inspirations and intentions.
Las Cafeteras, “If I Was President”
In 2004, halfway through then-President George W. Bush’s first term, Wyclef Jean released “If I Was President.” Over an acoustic guitar riff, the Haiti-born rapper predicted dryly what might happen if he, a black man advocating for free education and services for the homeless, were elected president: he’d be assassinated immediately.
Thirteen years later, one could say a lot’s changed. Not only did the U.S. elect a black president twice, Barack Obama turned out to be one of the most celebrated presidents in modern history. And yet, just a month into Pres. Donald Trump’s administration, the lyrics to Las Cafeteras’ new single “If I Was President” — in which the six-person Los Angeles band sings in Spanish and English about reducing incarceration, providing free education, and mandating a living wage — sound at once fresh and all too familiar:
On our current situation
When we pay a living wage
We’ll have less incarceration
And my first lady
Would be my moms
Cause she’d slap me
At the first thought of drone strikes
And dropping bombs
We’d Free my poor black and brown kids
that got caught up in 3 strikes
And when they get out
They gettin’ free bikes
The track, which serves as the first single on Las Cafeteras’ new record Tastes Like L.A., was released as a free download on Jan. 20 — Presidents’ Day.
“We wanted to engage people’s imaginations about the future of this country,” wrote the band in a statement accompanying the song. “Everyone knows what’s wrong, but not many know what to do. We hope to push people to think about themselves as presidents of their homes, schools, workplaces and to create the kind of country they would like to see starting from the local and moving outward.”
On the heels of reports that Pres. Trump plans to direct more federal resources toward aggressively pursuing and deporting undocumented immigrants, it’s an especially powerful message coming from a group of first-generation Americans. Las Cafeteras blend punk- and hip-hop-influenced songwriting with popular Latin musical styles like cumbia — a fitting concoction for a band made up of young people who grew up in diverse East L.A. neighborhoods, raised by parents from Mexico.
The band is touring the U.S. leading up to Tastes Like L.A.‘s release on April 14. They’ll perform at the Social Hall in San Francisco on April 8, and at the Rio Theatre in Santa Cruz April 15. The band also plans to release audio stems for “If I Was President,” allowing remixers to create and share their own versions of the song.
“The President says he wants to build a wall,” said band member Denise Carlos. “Las Cafeteras want to build bridges.”