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“Tacos, Rocks and Lucha Libre”: Los Mocochetes- Native American Heritage Series

“Tacos, Rocks and Lucha Libre”: Los Mocochetes- Native American Heritage Series


I’ve heard them called by a variety of names including “Los Mocosos”, “The Cochinos” and my favorite “Los Chicharrones”. The last one was used by a friend who knew their name yet enjoyed calling them by her favorite snack. Not many musicians are comfortable being called a “snotty-nosed kid”, yet mocos is Spanish for snot or booger. In the same way we refer to someone as a “snotty-nosed kid”, we would use the term mocoso. The last part of their name refers to a machete, known in Chicano culture as a long-bladed knife used for combat, hunting, or agricultural purposes. Combine these two terms together and you have the meaning of their band name, “snotty-nosed kids used for good”.

If you haven’t heard of them, get to know their name because they are showing up everywhere. Known for their energy and sense of humor, they have a regalo to bring people together and form a community. Unlike any other band in the Colorado music scene, they magically merge Latino, Indigenous, and Chicano cultures while also raising awareness on social issues. Their ability to bring attention to situations that matter to people of color, while also making people laugh and dance, is cosmic. The band is Los Mocochetes and they are right on time for what this world needs.

Los Mocochetes @ La Raza Park PC: M. Cedillo

The band consists of Joser “Jozer” Guerrero (lead vocals and percussion), Joshua Abeyta (guitar, vocals, and horn), Jon Rubio (drums), Elias Garcia (guitar and vocals), Diego Florez (guitar, vocals, and percussion) and Eli Bass Montoya (bass). Watching them perform, it’s obvious they are familia. Their humility and respect for each other is sacred. When asked who in the band they would switch talents with, there was no hesitation to name Eli. A graduate of the School of Denver Arts, Eli is a multi-talented instrumentalist, known for not just his talent, but also for his involvement with the community. He often uses his personal social media to promote fundraisers and other artists.

Spend enough time with them and it’s easy to see they don’t just love what they do, they love they can do it together. “I think we recognize, if we don’t see each other and play music for too long, we feel bad. Even just coming into rehearsal helps us to get ourselves straight. It’s part of our self-care program,” shares Joshua. Eli confirms, We’re definitely blessed. And we want to give it out for all of our ancestors and all of our elders. For all the bands that came before us here in the city, years before us. We’re always humbled and thankful for the people that came before, so we always try to honor and respect that.” A good example of how they give is their personal commitments to education. Joshua is a freelance educator for private, public, and non-profit settings, Diego is an educator and works with Birdseed Collective, and Jozer is known as a mentor working with youth through Su Teatro

Despite their busy schedules, they welcomed an opportunity to gather for an interview. Between the infectious laugh of Diego and Josh’s claim that the Chupacabra inspires him, it’s no mystery as to why so many people love this group. When asked what makes their group so unique, Joshua begins, “When you really speak to that wide lens of assimilation and the intentional destruction of our families, people think about it as being in the past, but families are being separated today. They’re actively still tearing us apart, whether it’s through direct family separation or influencing our communities to stay in poverty. This was an intentional choice on our parts, to create, to bring our family back together. We call each other brothers because we know that any one of us would get up at three in the morning and go pick someone up from the other side of the town if they needed to. That’s really powerful. When there’s so many cards stacked against us, and you have help, that is just amplified.”

Listed in “The Top 27 Best Shows We Saw This Year at UMS” by 303 Magazine, this talented group rocked the stage with their top songs and fan favorites. Brian Loma, a resident of Colorado who runs “Cut the Plastic EMS”, is a known activist and fan, “This year’s Underground Music Showcase, the singing and performing from the mainstage, was AMAZING. If there’s five people, 500 or 5,000 in the audience, they’re going to perform with the same energy and vibrancy for the five people, as they would if there were 5,000. To bring some light into all of the struggles, that stuck with me. Because of them and their music, I danced nonstop this year.”

Los Mocochetes @ UMS 2021 PC: Ean Tafoya

Indigo Rocabado, a musician and previous student of Jozer, shares the importance of Indigenous people in the music industry. “For most of my life, I was in environments with kids that didn’t look like me. I had the cultural aspects like the foods, holidays, and famous people, but no point of reference for what that meant for me in the world. Then I found artists like the Mocochetes and everyone from their circle who gave me a historical understanding. I learned it’s necessary to be loud about your culture and something that I hope everyone in the struggle finds, because it’s so healing to your soul. Whatever release that is, for them to feel genuine and beautiful. To take up space in a world that they deserve and have been denied.”

The Mocochetes have no problem with taking up space. They have played venues all over including the Hi Dive, Raices Brewing Co., Roxy on Broadway, and Mercury Cafe Denver. They’ve also performed at the Westword Music Showcase, Sunnyside Music Festival, Cherry Creek Art Festival, Five Points Cinco de Mayo Celebration, Boulder Arts Outdoors, and Denver Does Denver. Elias shares, “Our music is for everybody, not just one race or one particular person in general. When we play shows, it lets people know that people of color are here in this city. We have a voice and we’re not going to be silenced. Every time we play, people come up to us after the show and share it was a new experience that opened their eyes. It lets them know, we’re here to stay and we’re not going anywhere.”

Los Mocochetes-Joshua & Jon @ La Raza Park PC: M. Cedillo

Los Mocochetes-Elias @ La Raza Park PC: M. Cedillo

Diego confirms, “What was done to us was exclusion. To do that back, is using that colonizers tool against them, that isn’t healing. We’re talking about medicine. How we can bring everything back together as one. That is what is powerful about when we all come together. We’re all contributing in our own way to this one song, this one vision. It’s divine to be able to get six people in the same room, consistently for five years. We all want to be here. To manufacture something that they can feel, something ancient, more powerful, and connecting with their ancestors. Using the music within us, the rhythms of the earth, we express how we think. Once we start vibing, we are all that. We’re thankful for that opportunity, the Creator makes way for that. It’s not we who are giving the shows, it’s what the Creator’s giving.”

Indigo has experienced that connection, “They always make space for me. They’re not stingy with their shine. They don’t have that ego about them where they can’t share the spotlight. They see they have a platform and now it’s time to do the work of uplifting other people with it. It’s definitely different, you don’t see that a lot. I can honestly say, they’ve never made me aware of the fact that I was a woman, in the sense that I’ve always been given the space around them to speak. To contribute and to just be a part of their creative family.”

The band is also known for its generosity. During COVID, they gave a virtual performance in “For the Love of Locals”, a fundraiser to help struggling musicians. Even more impressive was their work with the Fort Collins Musicians Association. The group participated in a sit-down discussion focusing on mental health within the music scene. Jozer explains, “I think medicine, most of the time we think about some sort of pill or injection. We forget that you can heal in many different ways. Music and sound, in the vibrations that we put off, it’s scientifically proven, that is vibration therapy. It’s similar to the energy we send with the lyrics or harmonies we’re playing. Often that can be healing on its own. Every person takes it in their own way. When we’re on, we have that ability to really impact folks and that can be considered medicine.”

Steve Abeyta, who considers Jozer a mentor and father figure, shares, “I just love how deep their music is and how much they voice their opinions on so many different topics. They really care about not only themselves, but the community that they live in.” He shared his favorite memory of the band, “They were performing and started cleaning up. I asked them if they could perform a song for me, which is my favorite song by them. They actually said yes and got everybody back on the dance floor, dancing again!” He continues, “I think all of their songs are healing. They have a message to you. Some of their songs can be goofy and some of them can be very serious. It always comes out in a positive way though and makes you want to reflect, to become a better person and help the world.“

Los Mocochetes-“Giving land acknowledgment.” PC: Hilda Nucete

A long-time friend of the band is Ean T. Tafoya, a known advocate for human rights and the environment. Ean is also a Radio DJ, known as Mr. Denver on “Colorado Culture Connection” on KGNU. He often plays the Mocochetes, “The band is involved and shows up at community events. Showing up is so much of that work! They are building a community and they give me a chance to partner with them. At the UMS, they included photos of my trip to our homeland, of our culture, sacred sites, and sacred places.” The band is known for doing a land acknowledgment before their performances, which are usually done by Ean. He explains, “That’s something that they’ve consistently asked me to do. It’s not just acknowledging the people who were here before us, it is acknowledging the people who are here now. A way of making people hear us. It is a way to educate people, to connect the past with our present in hopes for a better future.“

Brian agrees, “These musicians have a history of telling the stories, transitioning painful histories to the knowledge and mindfulness of honor. We have this big fight right now in the United States over education and about telling the truth. It is telling the true history of humans and what we have the capacity to do toward our fellow humans. You know, there’s an old saying that history forgotten will be repeated. They are a band that speaks true history. It’s paramount we have these voices lifting up the scars of our past, so we can acknowledge them for what they are and move on in a way that doesn’t repeat.”

Elias believes everyone is their own storyteller, “We’re in a place in history where we’ve been resilient and refused to be eradicated. We can tell our own story. That’s what’s at the crux of what we’re saying, that people just want the agency to live their own good life. Part of that is keeping that cultura together, it’s what feeds us. We feed the culture, we preserve it, we’re caretakers and stewards of it. We are continuing that story that was attempted to be erased. A lot of it has been lost, but we’re refining those ways.”

Jozer says their approach to storytelling is intentional, “I always think about it. I tell my students this all the time, especially if they’re writing something. What is the goal of this poem? What is the goal of the song? I often think, what are we doing with our songs? We’re trying to find a way, because we’re not sugarcoating many things. We’re pretty blunt about some of it, but it’s in the delivery, right? It’s how we present it. Like this song about tacos. The song essentially is about why you want to consume our culture but you don’t want to accept our people? We present it in the recipe of my grandmother’s tacos. The message still gets out pretty clear. Most folks are able to digest that a little bit easier and not even realize they’re digesting it until they go home and think ‘Oh, maybe I was thinking about this in the wrong way?’ That’s what art is and that’s why it’s such an important vehicle.”

Los Mocochetes @ The Roxy on Broadway PC: M. Cedillo

Considering their music to be medicine, they were asked if they see themselves as healers. Jon replied, “I’ve got called that a few times myself. People tell us it is a medicine and it does heal people. People want from the music, something they can relate to and have some sense of hope. Whatever people are going through, music is medicine, it has definitely helped me. When I was learning the songs it was very healing. I remember telling Josh, ‘Hey man, this music has healed me. The tough spot I was going through, it really is a medicine!” Music is not just art and art forms, it’s something beyond that, especially if you can reach one person. Then they reach 10 people and those 10 people reach 100 people and you build a community. It’s definitely a blessing to have that platform and to be able to do that.

Elias adds, “Every single person on this planet has a connection to indigeneity. Every person comes from a culture that was living with and off the land. A culture that had different spiritual practices, hunting, and healing. Different ways of surviving within climates which their body’s adapted to. Culture ties us back to what makes us human. Everybody has culture, how your grandma cooked her soup, how your grandpa prepares their tea.”

“This is a revolution,” proclaims Jozer as he stands, ”I know there’s certain places and certain times where I go up there and it does feel uncomfortable to sing. That’s active evolution. Most importantly though, at the end of the day, it is our duty to continue this work. If you talk about how it used to be illegal for us to do this. Illegal for us to be who we are, then what are we doing if we’re not practicing that? If we’re not taking advantage of what our ancestors and those who came before us fought so hard to do? It doesn’t feel like an obligation, but in a positive way it is. It’s like this duty that our ancestors gave us. This is a talent that we’ve been given for a reason. We hope that it will inspire folks. We hope that impacts other people, in the same exact way that impacted me. We are the actual manifestations of our ancestors’ prayers. We are brought to do this, to be here, to do something positive in our lifetimes.”

The Mocochetes will be the first performance at the Perplexiplex Convergence Station for “La Posada IZCALLI” on December 11, 2021 at Meow Wolf Denver.

Follow Los Mocochetes on Instagram.

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