Los Angeles-based La Santa Cecilia is a "new thing" Latin rock group that draws musical inspiration from across the globe, utilizing Pan-American rhythms from cumbia, bossa nova, rhumba, bolero, and tango and marrying them to rock, soul, R&B, ska, jazz, and even klezmer. All children of immigrants, they began their musical journey singing in backyards and alleys in L.A. Their acclaimed 2013 debut album, 2013's Treinta Dias, offered an uptempo yet intensely personal view of Latino life, and delivered the hit single "ICE el Hielo" — it became an anthem for the 14 million undocumented denizens of the U.S. and paved the way for the band to win a Grammy for Best Latin Rock Album.
La Santa Cecilia (named for the patron saint of musicians) was formed in 2007 as a sextet. Its founding members were guitarist Gloria Estrada, accordionist and requintero Pepe Carlos, bassist Alex Bendaña, percussionist Miguel "Oso" Ramirez, drummer Hugo Vargas, and lead vocalist Marisol "La Marisoul" Hernandez. Its members were either born in or brought to the United States when they were very young. While they all grew up with traditional forms of Latin music at home, they were also exposed to the sounds of American pop culture: rock, soul, blues, jazz, funk, punk, ska, reggae, and other world sounds that played freely on the airwaves and in neighborhoods. They performed at block parties, bars, coffee houses, and the occasional opening gig for out-of-town acts and at festivals.
The band recorded its self-titled debut EP in 2009. Aside from terrific songwriting and performances, the CD package revealed something else that was different about this group: they wanted to be part of their community. They sponsored "painting parties" where they would play and design and hand paint their CD covers with friends and fans, using materials that ranged from recycled newsprint to wrapping paper to card stock and more. No two covers were alike and were therefore art objects. Local notice spread about the group's music, and they received local airplay and were able to play more shows and festivals. Their incendiary live performances garnered them a fanatic fan base, and music from the EP was eventually featured in the cable series Weeds, in the documentary film Re-Encounters (about Oaxacan artist Alejandro Santiago), and elsewhere.
The band's second EP, Noche y Citas, was released in 2010 and garnered further critical acclaim, and the group began to tour in Mexico and, eventually, throughout North America. Their third EP featured four covers as well an original song. The covers ranged from Gloria Jones' "Tainted Love" and U2's "One" to the late Lhasa de Sela's "Love Came Here" and "Viento" by Caifanes, displaying not only their range but their commitment to a variety of music.
With growing popularity at home and abroad, La Santa Cecilia signed to Universal and pared down the core of the group to La Marisoul, Bendaña, Carlos, and Ramirez. Their debut album, Treinta Dias, was released in May of 2013, and became the Hot Shot Debut of the Week on Billboard's Latin Pop Albums and in February 2014, won the Grammy award for Best Latin Rock, Urban, or Alternative Album.
In March, less than a month after winning their Grammy, the band released Someday New. Its single "Cumbia Morada" charted its first week. In addition, a cover of the Beatles' "Strawberry Fields Forever" was a hit. Another version of "ICE/El Hielo" appeared on the disc; the song was used in the series The Bridge on FX.
La Santa Cecilia worked the road, conducted songwriting workshops, and were selected as one of the two openers on Cafe Tacuba's 25th anniversary tour. They also became an international headline act in their own right before heading back into the studio.
In August of 2015, they dropped an English-language pre-release single, "I Won't Cry for You," and followed it with "Nunca Mas (Never Again)" in December. The full-length Buenaventura was released in February 2016. The album featured guest spots by Enrique Bunbury, Fito Páez, members of Los Lobos, and the Latino Arts Strings Program of Milwaukee.
La Santa Cecilia deepened their collaboration with longtime producer Sebastian Krys and signed to his Rebelon Entertainment label. This action resulted in the most ambitious recording of their career to date. They decided to cut an "audio-visual album" in Mexico City. La Santa Cecilia began as a street band in Los Angeles, singing rancheras and boleros, as well as Spanish- and English-language pop, soul, and rock tunes. To reflect this on the other side of the border, they cut each track — 11 covers, one original — in the plazas, parks, bars, and theaters of the great metropolis. Each song was cut live to tape and had an accompanying video. The material reflected their roots. There were versions of classic rancheras, boleros, and mariachis from some of Mexico's greatest songwriters — including Violeta Parra, Consuelo Velazquez (composer of the standard "Besame Mucho"), and Tomas Mendez — as well as modern tunes from Cafe Tacvba, Juan Gabriel, and Smokey Robinson. La Santa Cecilia also enlisted a host of collaborators to perform with them for the project, including Chilean singer/songwriter Mon Laferte, Argentine-Mexican singer Noel Schajris, Eugenia Leon, and rockabilly upstarts Rebel Cats. The band previewed the album with three videos — all issued on the same day in April 2017 — including a version of the title track, "Amar y Vivir" (written by Velazquez), featuring the chart-topping Mexico City-based rock band Comisario Pantera. The full-length project was issued in mid-May. It peaked at number 28 on the Top Latin Albums chart, and also received a Grammy nomination for Best Latin Pop Album. ~ Thom Jurek