Music in the Time of COVID: Las Calakas Are Keeping the Party Going

Las Calakas continue to deliver their fiery take on cumbia.
Las Calakas continue to deliver their fiery take on cumbia. Sam Gomez
Between the COVID-19 pandemic, a harrowing presidential election, and peak levels of social unrest, 2020 has been a year of strife and chaos. But we forget that amid all this negativity, local artists are still creating great work. Phoenix New Times touched base with musicians from across the musical spectrum to gauge how they're faring personally, the ways in which their work has been influenced, and what all this madness really means. Through these conversations, we might just find the spark to make it through 2020 after all.

Anyone who's seen Las Calakas over the last couple of years knows how exciting they've become. The foursome's live show brims with passion, and attendees can't help but feel the vibes and cut a rug (no matter how poorly). But while the pandemic has put the kibosh on actual concerts, the band have rebounded with continued levels of online engagement. They're proof that no quarantine could ever truly ruin a great party.

Phoenix New Times: The band have been doing a lot of livestreams. How has that been as a coping mechanism of sorts?
Rafa Calaka: It's a little bit awkward when you're playing in front of cameras. But I guess the way that we look at it, we're practicing. We as musicians feed off the people's energy, and that's what makes us you get hyped. So we're going to play with our energy, no matter if there's people or zero people around.

We live for people having a good time and liking it. But honestly, any response is good. If a person's there and says, "You guys suck," we're like, "Hey, thanks, man. Thanks for sticking around." Because if that person doesn't like the music, the person next to him probably does and is having a good time.

Is this a chance at all for you guys to experiment together as a band?
If we were to play a show anywhere, we just play the show and then that's it entirely. And the next day, everybody tags us on videos and we just pay attention to that: "Right, that sounds good." But here, we're in a professional studio, and the next day we can actually hear it. Now we actually get to hear and see ourselves, so we have to polish some stuff here and there.

Are you keeping up the same kinds of routines or approach to music?
Since the last time we spoke, we still practice four to five times a week. And our practice consists of four to five hours a day. That's the cool thing about us is that we go inside and we're in our studio and we just start recording with our own little mixer.

If we were to record in separate rooms, that would be a challenge, because we're so used to having that connection together. We should probably do that just to give it a try and just to see how we actually feel, you know?

Has it been harder to be a band now? Are the added pressures of life having an effect?
We're still kind of scared to even be outside or to actually go practice. Everybody's getting tested in this stuff. That's what stresses us out the most, and that's impacted us a lot. Because then you're like, "Okay, well, maybe we shouldn't be practicing every day." But we just kind of power through, to always make the best of it.

Las Calakas tends to be a fun, party-centric band. Is there an urge at all to change up what you play, or to try to be more politically aware?
We still keep it consistent, and we really didn't change so much about our lyrical formations. We really don't like to talk about what's on because [these songs] are going to be with us forever, and we just don't want to remind ourselves. All our songs, they're about positivity and about dancing.

We released a song last month ["Morena"], and we're talking about being in a relationship with a girl who was really crazy, but you just love her and you just deal with whatever it is that she's doing to you. We like to talk about breakups and dancing and just having a good time.

Why's it so important to lean into some of those dance songs and the like?
We all have problems, and we all have something that's going on. But you come to one of our shows, and our job is just to be the people that we are for those next two hours. Just forget about the problems, and we can deal with them tomorrow.
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Chris Coplan has been a professional writer since the 2010s, having started his professional career at Consequence of Sound. Since then, he's also been published with TIME, Complex, and other outlets. He lives in Central Phoenix with his fiancee, a dumb but lovable dog, and two bossy cats.
Contact: Chris Coplan