Grammy-winning ensemble La Santa Cecilia return to The Broad Stage after a very impressive year
By Bliss Bowen
Saint Cecilia, the patron saint of musicians, certainly seems to have been busy casting light on L.A. darlings La Santa Cecilia, who honored her when choosing their band name in 2007.
This year alone, the dynamic foursome won a Best Latin Rock, Urban or Alternative Album Grammy Award for 2013’s “Treinta Días”; released an acclaimed follow-up, “Someday New”; played a short set and participated in a celebratory Q&A session at the Grammy Museum; performed at the Bonnaroo festival in Tennessee; and traveled to Colombia for the Shock Awards and a handful of shows around Bogotá.
By any reasonable measuring standard, that’s a damn good year — one that’s introduced their zesty cumbia-rock-rumba-soul gumbo to audiences far beyond Los Angeles.
La Santa Cecilia have also placed human faces on an issue that is too often cynically exploited for political gain and whose complexity is too rarely explored: immigration reform. The video for their song “El Hielo (ICE)” (a highlight of “Treinta Días” that is reprised on “Someday New”) matter-of-factly calls for change in its depiction of three struggling LA immigrants.
Frontwoman Marisol Hernandez underscored its message more firmly in her elated acceptance speech at the Grammy Awards ceremony: “We dedicate this award to the more than 11 million undocumented people that live and work really hard in this country and that still need to live a more dignified life in this country. Viva la musica, migration is beautiful!”
The issue is far from academic for La Santa Cecilia, as accordionist/requintero player Jose “Pepe” Carlos acknowledged in an email interview. The exchange took place days after President Obama’s Nov. 20 address to the nation, as the band prepared to leave for their brief trip to Colombia.
“We are children of immigrants or immigrants ourselves, so we feel that it’s an important step forward toward an immigration reform,” Carlos wrote in reference to Obama’s speech. “We need an immigration reform that will lead to residency and US citizen status.”
Carlos, a DREAM Act beneficiary who came to the United States at age 6 with his Oaxacan parents, is no stranger to the process. At the time of La Santa Cecilia’s Grammy win, his legal status was still unresolved; his wife petitioned for his residency and now, he wrote, he is a “legal resident.”
Since the band’s Grammy win they “haven’t stopped touring,” according to Carlos, and reception has been positive as they’ve performed and met with people in Alaska, the northeastern United States and elsewhere: “As we speak about our experience as children of immigrants and [being] immigrants ourselves, [people] are very open to hearing our stories and the positive contribution of immigration.”
As artists, they feel a deeper sense of responsibility to their music. And it’s the music that has endeared them to fans, whether they’re imbuing the Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields Forever” with contemporary political relevance or transforming concert halls into rambunctious dance parties. When they’re onstage, it’s hard not to be swept up in the spirited interplay between Carlos, bassist Alex Bendana, percussionist Miguel Ramirez and Hernandez, who struts across the stage like a roaring goddess of rhythm and mirth.
“In a way, people do take you more seriously as a band and musician” when you win a Grammy, Carlos commented.
“It now motivates us even more to keep on writing new music and taking our music to new places. … In 10 years we would love to be performing, writing more music and hopefully venturing out into new fields of the entertainment industry. It’s always great to keep on growing and exploring new avenues.”
La Santa Cecilia perform Friday at the Broad Stage, 1310 11th St., Santa Monica. $25 to $43. Call (310) 434-3200 or visit lasantacecilia.com.