When Cachitas Now! first heard they’d be touring major U.S. cities across the US this June, they couldn’t believe it. From complex visas and taxes to the exorbitant cost, it’s hard at the best of times for Argentine bands to access the North American festival market. It’s extra challenging when you’re an emerging band exploring LGBTQ+ identities and challenging gender roles through cumbia.
“This is our first time in the United States,” said singer Melisa Lobos, nervous with anticipation. “We have never done a 90-minute show, for example. It’s a challenge for us.”
Cachitas Now! is a seven-person outfit: Lobos takes the lead, while Noelia Sinkunas showcases her skills on the keyboard. Tomás Llancafil adds his soulful voice and electric guitar riffs to the mix, accompanied by the bass lines of Melisa Montejano. Guadalupe Mambrin brings the beats with her mastery of the octapad, while Jonás Gómez Dip adds a touch of Dominican flair with the güira. Last but not least, Matías Rodríguez brings rhythmic intensity on the timbales.
“When it was formed, Cachitas was a band of ‘femininities,’ and 80% of the members were lesbians,” Lobos explained, using a term from Argentina’s LGBTQ+ community that refers to anyone whose gender inclines towards the feminine. “We started playing without realizing it was a statement to have so many diverse voices singing on stage. Cachitas Now! emerged because as lesbians, at that time, we didn’t feel so ‘cachos’ (big, tough), but rather ‘cachitas’ (a term that conveys a more affectionate quality). And we wondered, when will Cachitas play? Now!”
“A lesbian singing redefines the song”
Along with LGBTQ+ cumbia bands like Sudor Marika and BIFE, Cachitas Now! crafts their own compositions, delving into a range of topics. They empower women, embrace sexual dissidence, and portray everyday love stories in a context of freedom and the pursuit of healthy relationships. Their message is rooted in challenging the norms of heteronormativity, dismantling macho ideologies, and redefining romantic love.
“There are songs that, when sung by a guy, don’t have the same impact as when sung by a lesbian,” Lobos said, giving the example of the song No lo engañes más (Don’t cheat him anymore), by Hernán y la Champions Liga. “If a lesbian sings ‘Why don’t you go and tell her, woman, that you don’t love him’ it redefines the meaning of the song, it invites you to come out of the closet.”
The ensemble was formed in 2011 amid a vibrant emerging scene that brought together a collective of cumbia bands in La Plata. “It was an authentic Latin American movement aimed at reimagining tropical rhythms by blending them with the fusion of tango, folklore, and rock”, said Sinkunas, the keyboardist, who was recently honored with a Gardel Award for “Best Alternative Folklore Album” for her solo project SALVE.
The National University of La Plata’s fine arts faculty was a hotbed of talent. Most of the band met there, immersing themselves in the study of music, performing late into the night at traditional peñas, and finishing the gatherings with vibrant cumbia improvisations. None of them could have imagined a future of international tours: they just wanted the opportunity to share their music.
Hunting for grants and funds that would allow them to develop their music, they came across the Center Stage cultural diplomacy initiative, which promotes cultural understanding between U.S. and international communities. Coordinated by the Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs in partnership with New England Foundation for the Arts and Lisa Booth Management, the program identifies, prepares, and tours exceptional young performing arts groups from abroad, especially from countries and cultures underrepresented in the U.S. The aim is to diversify U.S. performing arts venues.
“Cachitas Now! is producing remarkable work that embodies community, inclusivity, accessibility, and fun,” said Deirdre Valente, General Manager of Lisa Booth Management. “We thought they were the perfect choice for a summer tour.” Cachitas’ trip was confirmed in 2021.
The group now has two albums to their name, 2016’s Cumbia Desgenerada – in Spanish, a pun on the words “genderless” and “degenerate” – and “Chonga” (2019), which was nominated for “Best Tropical Album” at the 2020 Gardel Awards. They also have a video album titled “Living la vida Cumbia” (2022). Now, the time has come to take their music beyond national borders.
“We want our music to embody cumbia, and experiencing our performances and listening to the lyrics should evoke something special,” said Sinkunas. “We don’t know what the reception will be like in the United States.”
Most of Cachitas Now!’s shows will be at free festivals and outdoor venues, making their fresh, exciting sound and message accessible to anyone who wants to check out their show.
“Cachitas’ work is exceptional,” Valente said. “Their message holds significant importance, and it’s crucial for people in the US to recognize that we aren’t alone in addressing issues of inclusivity, community-building, and activism.”
Now, it’s time to shake those “cachitas”!