Caifanes is a Pop rock band from Mexico City. Formed in 1987, the group achieved international fame during the late 1980s and early 1990s. The original lineup consisted of Saúl Hernández (vocals & guitar), Sabo Romo (bass guitar), Alfonso André [es] (drums), and Diego Herrera (keyboards and saxophone). Alejandro Marcovich later joined Caifanes as lead guitar player. Caifanes’ style can be described as a hybrid of British new wave, progressive rock and Latin percussion underscored by deep, somber, and Latin American-Mexican-Spanish-influenced lyrics and the vocal style of Saúl Hernández. Members of Caifanes have cited The Cure, The Beatles and King Crimson as major influences, with Adrian Belew having produced their third studio album, El Silencio, as well as making a guest appearance on it.
The name Caifanes is derived from 1940s Mexican pachuco (zoot suiter) slang “Cae fine”. Its equivalent in English would be “cool dude.” The word has also been used to describe the proverbial Mexican pachuco, delinquent, or outsider.
The seeds of what was to later become Caifanes were planted in 1984 with Las Insolitas Imágenes de Aurora (The Unusual Images of Aurora), a band that included Saúl Hernández, Alfonso André and Alejandro Marcovich. According to Marcovich, Insólitas started out as a side project for the purpose of performing as a party band for the filming of his brother’s film project (Marcovich’s brother went on to direct various videos for Caifanes). At the time, both Hernández and Marcovich were playing in different bands. The members enjoyed the experience of playing in Insolitas and decided to continue. As the seriousness of the project grew the band began to play in different spots in Mexico City like Rockotitlán, High Tower, and El Jabalí. In May 1986, Insolitas recorded a live demo performed at Rockotitlán. Insólitas developed a strong cult following in Mexico City.
Insólitas broke up in 1986. Saúl and Alfonso reformed as Caifanes with bass player/producer Sabo Romo and Diego Herrera on keyboards and sax. Caifanes’ first live show was April 11, 1987, in Rockotitlán. The building was filled to capacity and many people were left outside. Their popularity began to grow throughout Mexico City. By late 1987 Caifanes had carved a niche for themselves as a dark contrast to the corporate pop/rock and light ballads that dominated Mexican radio and television during the 1980s. At times the image and the sound were considered radical for the Mexican music industry. Between December 28, 1986 and January 3, 1987 Juan Aceves produced a four-song demo for the band using “free” studio time at night at Arco Studio (where Aceves was chief engineer). The demo was showcased on the independent radio program Espacio 59 (Space 59), a show that promoted up and coming rock bands. With demo in hand Caifanes approached CBS Mexico. The musical director at the time shunned them for dark new wave attire and said, “You look like fags.” At the time, Caifanes’ sound and look was influenced by British post-punk groups such as The Cure and The Jesus and Mary Chain. They dressed in black suits and sported frizzly hair and makeup. Upon hearing the demo of “Será Por Eso” (English: “That’s Why”), the CBS executive said, “At CBS, our business is to sell records, not coffins.”
Nevertheless, the movement of Rock en Español or rock en tu idioma (Rock in your language) was too strong to ignore by record execs. The flood of groups from Spain and Argentina forced Mexican labels to take a second look at up-and-coming Mexican bands. Caifanes received a big break when Ariola records invited them to open for Argentinean rocker Miguel Mateos’ Mexico City show. The show brought Cafaines to the attention of Miguel Mateos’ producer Oscar Lopez. Oscar fell in love with the band and took them to the studio to record a demo. Lopez would be instrumental in their signing to RCA-Ariola and would go on to produce their first two albums.
Caifanes’ debut album Caifanes (also known as Mátenme Porque Me Muero, Volumen I) was released in August 1988 by RCA-Ariola. The LP was preceded by an EP made up of three songs, in order to test the market. The immediate sale of 300,000 copies of the EP cemented the band’s appeal. The first single “Mátenme Porque Me Muero” (“Kill Me Because I’m Dying”) became a minor hit in Mexico City. The first three singles garnered sufficient radio play.
In December 1988 Caifanes released a cover of Cuban folk singer Guillermo Rodriguez Fiffe’s classic cumbia (tropical dance song), “La Negra Tomasa,” (The Black Woman Tomasa) as a Maxi single. The song was a massive hit in Mexico and introduced Caifanes to a wider audience nationally and abroad.
By 1989, Caifanes had emerged as one of the hottest rock acts to come from central Mexico. In June Caifanes played two sold-out shows at Mexico’s Auditorio Nacional (National Auditorium), a 10,000 person venue – a first for a Mexican rock band.
In late 1989, Caifanes began to record their second album in New York City. The record was produced by Oscar Lopez, aided by Gustavo Santaolalla and Daniel Freiberg. El diablito (The Little Devil) was released in July 1990 through BMG Records. The band now included former Insolitas guitarist Alejandro Marcovich. Marcovich’s textural guitar work considerably changed Caifanes’ sound and cemented the “classic” Mexican rock sound that Caifanes became famous for. “La Célula Que Explota” (The Cell that Explodes), with its brushes of mariachi and bolero guitars and a crescendo of mariachi trumpets and its music video directed by Juan Carlos Colín became both a signature of the band as well as a massive hit in 1990 and 1991.
By this time, Caifanes along with Maná, Fobia, Maldita Vecindad, La Lupita, Cafe Tacuba and Los Amantes de Lola, helped to move Mexican Rock toward a wider audience and catapulted the Rock En Español movement of the 1990s.
In 1992, Caifanes released El Silencio (The Silence). Recorded in Wisconsin and produced by Adrian Belew, of King Crimson fame, El Silencio further had a more direct guitar driven sound. “No Dejes Que” (Don’t Let It”), “Estas Dormida” (You’re Sleeping), “Debajo de Tu Piel” (Under Your Skin), and the soaring “Nubes” (Clouds) would go on to become Mexican rock staples. The influence of Belew, who also played guitar on the album, was felt strongest in “Hasta Morir” (Until Death), “Tortuga” (Turtle), and “Vamos a Hacer un Silencio” (Let’s Make a Silence). With its string of hits and hybrid of rock and traditional Mexican music, El silencio is considered[by whom?] to be one of the most influential records of the Rock En Español genre. Caifanes toured extensively in support of the album. By this time, the group had started to make inroads into Central and South America as well as in the United States. In August 1992 Caifanes sold out the Hollywood Palladium. In 1993 Caifanes became the first Mexican rock group to sell out Mexico City’s Palacio de los Deportes (Sports Palace).
By late 1993, Caifanes became a three piece with the exit of Romo and Herrera. Federico Fong filled in on bass and Yann Zaragoza played keyboards. 1994’s El nervio del volcán (“The Volcano’s Nerve”), released by BMG, showed Caifanes with a heavier, more progressive sound. Without the distractions of Romo’s lively and fluid bass playing or Herrera’s atmospheric keyboards, Marcovich’s staccato guitar work, Alfonso’s polyrythmic drumming, and Hernandez’s brooding and haunting vocal style became even more prominent. “Afuera” (“Outside”), the first single, fused rock grooves with an ethnic-inspired guitar solo. “Aquí No Es Así” (“Here Is Not Like That ”), and “Ayer Me Dijo Un Ave” (“Yesterday a Bird said to me…”) became radio favorites. “Aquí No Es Así” achieved great success in Mexico and several countries of Latin-America, it became the last massive hit of the band, shortly before their breakup, and its music video, directed by Carlos Marcovich (Alejandro’s brother, who also directed “Afuera”) tells the history of the Spanish conquest of Mexico and the Aztec Empire in just one shot.
In 1994, Caifanes were at the height of their popularity. Caifanes along with Mana was one of Mexico’s premier stadium rock acts, selling out stadiums in Mexico and large venues throughout Latin America and the United States. They were a staple in Latin MTV, Rock en Español radio and appeared regularly at music festivals. In 1994, Caifanes opened up for the Rolling Stones in Mexico City and participated in Peter Gabriel’s WOMAD festival.
1995 marked the end of Caifanes. The relationship between Hernández and Marcovich was strained. On 18 August 1995, Caifanes played their final show in San Luis Potosí. A legal scuffle over the name “Caifanes” ensued, forcing Saúl Hernández to choose the name Jaguares (Jaguars) for his new project, which was not a radical departure from the Caifanes sound. Hernández was joined by former Caifanes and Insolitas drummer Alfonso André.
On December 14, 2010, it was announced that the band would be reuniting for the Vive Latino festival and the Coachella Festival of 2011, after a reconciliation between Hernández and Marcovich.
After not having recorded since 1994, the band released a new single, “Heridos”. The band’s intention was that the release of the single would be the starting point of what could be the recording of their fifth studio album.
Influence on popular culture
Caifanes could be categorized with the many of Mexican rock groups that emerged in the 1980s. The band is characterized by its excellence in playing and for the cryptic voyages achieved in the songwriting.
Caifanes collaborated in the de-sanitization of rock—its condition was one of marginalization and veiled in a conservative Mexico of the 1980s. Their arrival marked a total rupture in structures and of many taboos of the time, and their look collided with social norms. It was extremely out of the ordinary for a Mexican band at the time to wear makeup, dress in black, and have disheveled hair.
Influence on the Mexican rock scene
The presence of Caifanes and the media coverage forced record companies to take existing groups seriously as well as to revitalize veteran rock figures that had long careers behind them, such as El Tri. Neón [es], Bon y Los Enemigos del Silencio [es], Alquima, and Maldita Vecindad were the first signings. Maná and El Tri already had records out to take advantage of the surge in media support. Fobia gives enormous credit to the influence of Caifanes on their music, (Hernandez collaborated in the production of the demos Puedo Rascarme Solo, La Iguana, and Moscas for a television show. Saul offered moral support to Fobia and helped them sign with BMG Ariola). Many other bands owe their existence in the media to Caifanes: Santa Sabina, La Castañeda, Los Amantes de Lola [es], Maldita Vecindad, La Cuca, La Lupita, the ska band Sekta Core! [es], Víctimas del Doctor Cerebro [es], Botellita de Jerez, and many more. All of these bands have commented on the support of Caifanes for their careers.
- Saúl Hernández – Vocals / Guitars (1987 – 1995, 2011–present)
- Alfonso André – Drums (1987 – 1995, 2011–present)
- Diego Herrera – Keyboards (1987 – 1993, 2011–present)
- Rodrigo Baills – Lead Guitars (2014–present)
- Marco Renteria – Bass (2020-present)
- Alejandro Marcovich – Lead Guitars (1989 – 1995, 2011 – 2014)
- Sabo Romo – Bass (1987 – 1993, 2011–2020)
- Juan Carlos Novelo – Drums (1986-1987)
- Santiago Ojeda – Lead Guitars, back up vocals (1987)
- Jorge “Gato” Arce – Drums (1987)