If you want to oversimplify the super-eclectic world of Latin alternative/rock music, you can divide everything into two camps: the foreign-minded artists who stick to Anglo/American formulas, and the joy-loving pachangueros who excel at organic fusions of rock and local rhythms. La Santa Cecilia (named after the patron saint of musicians) doesn’t belong to either of those groups. Not completely.
The Los Angeles-based band on their way back to SXSW (and making their San Antonio debut February 24 at The Mix, followed by a February 26 show at Boneshakers) can make you want to dance all night with an edgy, smart, electrified cumbia and then leave you flat-footed with awe two minutes later when they rock the house with an electro-acoustic version of the Beatles’ “I Want You (She’s So Heavy).” Their style includes elements of rock, bolero, rumba, tango, samba, jazz, and even Romania’s klezmer music, and their brand new second EP, Noche y Citas (Night and Dates), produced by 2007 Latin Grammy Producer of the Year Sebastian Krys, has the band flying high.
“To me, they were the perfect blend of kids who grew up `in the U.S.` and were influenced by both cultures,” said Krys, who has won four Grammys and seven Latin Grammys. “They’re not about nostalgia and they’re not into placating to what the mainstream industry or media outlets think ‘Latino’ is. And as musicians they take their craft seriously. They have the work ethic, the drive, but most importantly a clear vision of who they are as artists, and they defend that vision. That’s refreshing in today’s music world.”
He has a soft spot for the singer, simply known as “La Marisoul.”
“She reminded me of those great singers in the mold of `Argentina’s` Mercedes Sosa, Lila Downs, and Edith Piaf, and ‘old’ soul,” said Krys, who chose LSC to be the first band he signed to his own label, Rebeleón Music.
Going back and forth in English and Spanish, Marisoul spoke to the Current on the phone from LA, where she was born. By the time she moved to Morelos, Mexico, at age 11, she was both a full-fledged rocker and an expert in singing corridos, rancheras, and boleros, which she learned while playing at her grandpa’s business at historic Placita Olvera, a sort of Angeleno Market Square.
“We had no babysitters,” Marisoul said, “and I just used to run and play at the market, and the mariachis and trios taught me how to sing. I loved it because they’d give me a dollar and I’d spend it on sweets.”
Like Marisoul, the rest of the band has a similar bi-cultural story. Accordionist Pepe Carlos was born in Oaxaca but grew up in Koreatown; percussionist Miguel “Oso” Ramírez was born in Orange County and grew up in Walnut, Calif., but his playing is all AfroCuba; guitarist Gloria Estrada grew up in East LA’s tough Boyle Heights section and has a jazz background; drummer Hugo Vargas (the band’s metalhead) is from Mexico City; and stand-up bassist Alex Bendana, the band’s other jazz connection, was born in Venezuela to Nicaraguan parents but grew up in LA. “He’s a Venezuelan nica raised by Mexicans!” jokes Marisoul.
“They set me free,” says Marisoul about the band’s skill and versatility. “They each have their own vibes, but we challenge each other and that’s great. I don’t know if I can sing ‘She’s So Heavy’ or a punk song, but I try and it’s a lot of fun to do it with people like them behind me.”
When she arrived in Mexico she was la gringuita who was into the Beatles, the Doors, and the Pixies. But it was in Mexico that she learned that there was nothing wrong with also embracing the music her family played at home.
“When you’re a teenager, you’re like, ‘I’m too hardcore for this or that.’ You feel you have to define yourself as for something,” she said. “But in this band we celebrate the fact that you can listen to everything, a mucha pinche honra `very fucking proud`. There’s no shame in saying, ‘I like corridos, but I also like hip-hop and punk.’ The more you know, the more you grow. We’re not just the band that plays cumbias. We like to explore without limits. We go out there, we play, and we see what happens.”
La Santa Cecilia will be playing a little bit of everything when they hit San Antonio.
“We’ll celebrate our traditional music, but also rebellion and new ideas. People should come with an open heart, because we’re having a good time, and we do everything we can so that people scream, cry, or get cachonda.”
I ask her if “horny” is the right translation for cachonda.
“Horny? I guess …” she says. “It sounds a little weird, but that’s what it is, isn’t it?” •
La Santa Cecilia
No cover, 21+
10:30pm, Thu Feb 24, w. Fear Snakeface
2423 N St. Mary’s
11 pm, Sat. Feb. 26
116 W. Mitchell, w. Heavy Feathers (9pm), Los #3 Dinners (10pm), and Piñata Protest (midnight)