Mexican-American group puts new musical spin on border relations

“We are Mexicans or Latinos, but we also like American music. It’s a shame that the leaders are among those who spread hatred.” — Pepe Carlos, La Santa Cecilia

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At a time when some vocal Americans are talking about putting up a wall on their border with Mexico, it’s interesting to stumble upon an award-winning Mexican-American band that seems determined to blur musical and cultural boundaries.

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Say hello to La Santa Cecilia, from Los Angeles but with roots in Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America. The band are named after the patron saint of music and as the band members prepare to celebrate their 10th anniversary in November, it’s hard to think of another Latin American band from anywhere who have covered The Beatles. and U2 alongside Sela’s Lhasa and Latin standards. like Besame Mucho, making it all his own.

“We always joke that our stage show ranges from dancing and screaming to screaming and crying,” said guitarist and accordionist Pepe Carlos. “It’s a bit of everything, connecting with the crowd. As long as we make them feel something, it doesn’t matter if it’s an original or not. This is how music was able to bridge all these cultures.

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The band made a name for themselves using a range of unexpected covers to complement their sets and three early EP releases before winning a Latin Grammy Award for their first full-length recording on Universal Music, Treinta Dias in 2013, the album which launched their international profile. These days, about 75% of their live material is original songs, but in any case, they often sing bilingual versions with Spanish and English verses.

Some of their covers have taken on a whole new twist. Imagine U2’s One as a Tex-Mex track, or consider Lennon/McCartney’s classic Strawberry Fields Forever with a Latin treatment.

“We always try to give it our own flavor. Strawberry Fields came early when we didn’t have enough originals, but it took on a different meaning. For us, that means being grateful to all the field workers who bring food to your table, the people who cultivate the strawberry fields here in California or elsewhere. We throw bossa nova, bolero, cumbia and ranchero, about five different beats, and people love it.

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Some of their original songs also comment on the realities of their community and the need for social change. You might be wondering if the band ever dedicated a song to President Donald Trump.

“No, I don’t think he deserves our time. It’s so unfortunate to see someone in government who has divided the country so much. Whether we’re touring Mexico or the United States, you see people love each other and it’s great to see people connect with the band. We are Mexican or Latino but we also like American music. It is unfortunate that the rulers are among those who spread hatred. »

La Santa Cecilia’s recent seventh album, Amar Y Vivir (Love And Live), was a special project, an incredible audiovisual album recorded live in different places, parks and streets of Mexico City with videos corresponding to each song. . Most of the tracks are again covers, this time of traditional Latin American or modern Mexican classics, but the live circumstances hark back to the band’s early days when they performed at block parties, cafes and other small rooms just to be heard. Guest cameos from a few of their Latin American musician friends are included.

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“It was important for us to make this album and a good time to do it with almost 10 years behind us. To see ourselves in the future, we had to go back to our roots, and we were happy to re-imagine some of these songs so that they don’t get lost in time.

Like the rest of the group, Pepe Carlos came to Los Angeles as a youngster, in his case at five years old. He was an undocumented immigrant for 27 years before obtaining his legal resident status. Of the four original founding members (now in their thirties), Carlos, percussionist Miguel Ramirez and vocalist Marisol Hernandez were all born in Mexico. Bassist Alex Bendana was born in Venezuela and raised briefly in Nicaragua before being brought to Los Angeles at the age of one. Electric guitarist Marco Sandoval and drummer Andres Torres complete the touring band.

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They had all been exposed to a wide range of Latin American styles at home, from boleros and norteno to Afro-Cuban, cumbia and mariachi, but they couldn’t help but absorb the popular currents of American music. Now everyone brings ideas to writing original songs or arrangements.

“When we started, we didn’t focus on any genre, like rock or whatever. We wanted to experiment and I think part of that was because we lived here in LA where so many cultures meet. In some early songs you would find four different rhythms. Over the years, we’ve found a process to better structure the songs. We have evolved into a multicultural act as we see it.

La Santa Cecilia performs across the Americas today, toured Mexico five times last year, and made their Canadian debuts in Toronto and Vancouver this summer. They hope to bring their sounds to Europe and Asia next.

PREVIEW

The Santa Cecilia

Or:Edmonton Folk Music Festival, Gallagher Park

When: Mainstage, Saturday, 8:15 p.m., and Session Stage 3, Sunday, 12:30 p.m.

LA Latin band La Santa Cecilia
LA Latin band La Santa Cecilia Photo by Humberto Howard

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