Winter Fest 2014: Exclusive Interview with La Santa Cecilia - San Jose Jazz

Winter Fest 2014: Exclusive Interview with La Santa Cecilia

Latin eclectics La Santa Cecilia arrive in San Jose for Winter Fest 2014 fresh off a win for Best Latin Rock, Urban or Alternative Album at the Grammy® Awards. With a sound that includes both Janice Joplin and Ramon Ayala as influences and styles like cumbia, bossa nova, jazz and klezmer music sprinkled into their sound, this four piece is sure to deliver a show that's unique yet, somehow, strangely familiar. We were fortunate enough to speak with all four band members between gigs, and they let us know what life is like for recent Grammy winners and shed some light on where their name originated. What’s the life of a recent Grammy® winning band been like? Marisol Hernandez (vocals): It’s been great. I feel like it’s been an amazing year since we released Trienta Dias. I think it’s been a year of a lot of “Man, I never thought . . .” It’s been an amazing year, and weeks after getting this amazing honor, it’s been a lot of work in sharing the great news and also in sharing the music. It’s been busy, but we’re so happy to be working and just looking forward. Miguel Ramirez (percussion): We’re just super happy that the academy nominated us, and then that we won. It’s been an amazing experience. Like Marisol said, we got to bask in it a little bit, enjoy it for a small moment right when they gave it to us. We gave the speech, went backstage, and then we went straight to work. We didn’t really get too much time to celebrate. I think it will hit us once we receive the actual Grammy in the mail. I wanted to touch upon your name. I love the idea that you’re named after the patron saint of musicians. Was there anyone in the group who came up with the name and do you remember when the band was christened La Santa Cecilia? Marisol: We had already gotten together to write our first songs, and we were all thinking of a name. Miguel and I had just gone on this trip in Mexico. We knew about the patron saint of musicians of course. Pepe and I grew up with a lot of street musicians who would take us to church every November 22 to give thanks to Santa Cecilia for work, for instruments, all that. One thing we noticed on our trip to Mexico was there were all these bands named Santa Cecilia. We noticed there were just a bunch of Santa Cecilia bands all over the world, called “La Santa Cecilia” with wherever they were playing from. I guess in a way, we wanted to be like them. We kind of just wanted to be La Santa Cecilia of Los Angeles, California, you know? I think it fits your group’s sound very well. I’m really drawn by the vast variety of influences your group speaks to. It touches upon so many things, and it’s also apparent when you speak on your influences. It speaks as much to your generation as your cultural background. With you visiting so many different musical areas, what’s your songwriting process like? How do you develop a sound that allows you to include so many different elements? Miguel: I think it just happens very naturally. We don’t really plan that out. Sometimes, Pedro will come in with a guitar riff, and that guitar riff will have a bossa nova type of feel. From there, maybe the bossa nova will turn into something else. It depends on how we hear the melody. Sometimes Marisol will have a melody. Sometimes we don’t have a melody and we just start strumming some basic chords and it will take shape on its own. We’re really lucky as a band that everybody is very open musically to different styles and different ideas. It’s always evolving too. Sometimes, the songs evolve and it takes a year to turn into what we end up putting out on an album. We don’t really try to plan it out or try to force it too much. We allow it to be whatever feels best for the song, but everybody’s influences are just coming out naturally. Marisol, I loved your piece that ran on All things Considered where you spoke on Olvera Street and the impact it had not only on your upbringing but the band’s creation. Can you describe the street for someone who’s never been?  Marisol: At a glance, Olvera is very much like a pueblo. It’s the first real settlement of Los Angeles, so it’s very Spaniard. It later turned into this touristy marketplace in the 1930’s, something like a little Disneyland town, like the Universal City Walk but back in the 30’s. It’s a place where a lot of artisans and merchants who came from Mexico settled and brought their families. One of these was my grandfather, who came in the late 60’s. It’s since become a place where tourists  can come and where a lot of immigrants and Latinas can actually connect to their culture. If you imagine a pueblo, you may see street musicians, vendors selling little nic nacs and restaurants with families having lunch or dinner. That’s where I grew up, with this celebration of being Mexican and being Latino in the heart of Los Angeles. I invite everyone to come and visit and have a churro and just hang out. In addition to La Santa Cecilia, we’re presenting Thundercat, Miguel Atwood-Ferguson and Moses Sumney at Winter Fest 2014. It seems like there’s a wide range of thought-provoking music that’s coming out of LA. Why do you think LA seems to be having this resurgence at the moment. What is it about the town that’s allowing great music to be born? Marisol: I think it’s bigger than LA. I think it’s this generation of kids who just have this open mind toward music, art, and culture. I think we’re lucky to have all these different places where there’s so much diversity, so many little hubs of culture -- Armenian, Japanese, South American, Mexican, Jewish . . . all kinds. I think it’s inevitable to be influenced by the smells and the sounds of all these different spaces in the city, and I think that’s what feeds the artists. I don’t think it’s just in Los Angeles. I think it’s in a lot of different places, like New York, San Antonio, San Francisco – everywhere. I think that just means our tastes have expanded, and the Internet and iPods and help us share. Miguel: Those are guys who are really bringing the quality of art scene in Los Angeles way up. They’re raising the bar really high. I’m a big fan of both of them, and to know that they’re representing Los Angeles means a lot because we get to put a stamp of approval on our city and say great stuff’s coming out of here at this very moment. It’s not just one particular culture. It’s the African American soul, funk and Hip Hop and classical music that Miguel Atwood-Ferguson’s making. Then Thundercat’s playing amazing bass. With us, we’re mixing so many different styles and genres from the city. It’s an honor. We’re really happy to be a part of that. You will be interacting with some of our Progressions students this weekend, who are just getting ready to start that musical journey as musicians. Your group is very social minded and involved in community activism. What does community involvement really mean to the band and its vision? Miguel: I think for us, we feel really lucky that we get to participate with all of these different social programs. It’s a very enriching experience. I think a lot of the times, artists just think “I’m going to go and give myself to this particular thing,” not realizing how much those experiences give back to us and how much they influence us. For us to be able to go into the schools and talk to the kids about music gives us so much more meaning to what we do.The kids give us life. They give us all this amazing energy and show us why we do what we do. It’s a constant reminder for us to give back, and to allow us to be given to as well. With all this great buzz that’s been building, 2014 has been a young year but definitely a great year for you so far. Where do you see the rest of the year taking you. Jose "Pepe" Carlos (accordian, requintero): We’re really looking forward to the rest of the year. We already have dates in towns we haven’t visited yet. We’re going to Tennessee and we’re playing Bonnaroo. I think we’re going to Louisiana next month. We are really looking forward to playing more and getting our music out for our new release.  Our EP is called Someday New. We’re really looking forward to that as well. We’re going to be in Mexico at the Vive Latino, which is compared to Coachella over here. We’re just looking forward to bringing our music to new towns, new places, new people. Marisol: We’re really looking forward to play in San Jose this weekend and share where we’re from, what we’re about and all that. Miguel: We ask that people join us on Twitter and just let us know what you’re thinking about for this weekend. We’ll be making posts and stuff like that, so hopefully we can connect with some new fans out there in San Jose! La Santa Cecilia perform Saturday, March 1 inside San Pedro Square Market as part of Winter Fest 2014. Before their performance, they will be performing and answering questions for our Progressions students at Santee Elementary. To find out more about the band, you can follow them on Twitter, like them on Facebook, or visit Funding for San Jose Jazz's education programming is sponsored in part by Southwest Airlines. SouthwestAirlines_small_124  

Join our mailing list

Subscribe to our updates and you’ll be the first to know about coming performances, special events and happenings in San Jose's arts and culture community.