© 2024 WSHU
NPR News & Classical Music
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

La Santa Cecilia celebrates its quinceañera with a new album

Los Angeles band La Santa Cecilia is celebrating 15 years together. They recently traveled to an estate in Baja California to record a new album with friends.
Humberto Howard
Los Angeles band La Santa Cecilia is celebrating 15 years together. They recently traveled to an estate in Baja California to record a new album with friends.

As the sun goes down in Baja's Valle de Guadalupe, Mexico's wine country, members of the Los Angeles band La Santa Cecilia, their close friends and a few special guests gather around a bonfire. The band is playing and singing Mexican rancheras, some ballads and boleros or love songs. Lead singer La Marisoul says many of the songs on their new album are part of their personal history, growing up in downtown LA, surrounded by Mexican musicians who taught them how to sing and play.

"I didn't really learn this music from recordings; I learned it from live musicians playing on the street," she says. "Some of these songs are songs we'd love to interpret from way back, before La Santa Cecilia, when we were Marisol y Los Hermanos Carlos, singing on the weekends at Placita, singing at weddings, at quinceañeras and things like that."

This is the band's quinceañera, a festive and joyous celebration of their 15 years together, playing the music they love. The band wanted to do a live recording in a country estate in Baja California for the celebration. Under the music, you can hear the sound of crickets, birds and a light breeze. The vibe here at the Finca Altozano can best be described as a bohemian night filled with music, conversation and some imbibing. Hence the album's title, Cuatro Copas, Bohemia en la Finca Altozano – Four Drinks, Bohemia at the Altozano Estate.

Guitarist and accordionist Pepe Carlos says the album includes songs from their families.

"Songs that were inherited by our parents while they were listening to at home," he says. "Songs like 'Pescadores de Ensenada' de Los Cadetes de Linares. We were listening to all this music at home. So, I think it's also a bridge between our parents, our roots musically."

As a band, La Santa Cecilia has been an ideal vehicle for them to experiment with all kinds of American and Latin music. They've played everything from rock to cumbia, pop tunes and ballads. And they've recorded albums in English, Spanish and Spanglish. La Marisoul says there's nothing like singing songs with friends around the fire.

"I love being on the stage, I love being on tour, I love being on the road, I love playing festivals, like Vive Latino and all that stuff," she says. "But there's just something about getting together with your friends and just singing music and just enjoying music in its simplest form, you know, with the guitar, con un Mezcalito, and sin mas, no?"

This album opens a window into the band's personal lives. It's a glimpse of how the group thrives and creates community, says percussionist Miguel Ramírez. "And it's so cool to be able to just be like, 'this is who we are, this is how we live, this is what we do for fun, this is what we do for enjoyment,' and we hope that you get to be a part of it through this record."

The band invited a few guest singers to join them in the recording for this special anniversary celebration. One of the guests was Patricio Hidalgo, a "Son Jarocho" artist from Mexico's Gulf state of Veracruz. The Grammy-winning musician says he's impressed by the band's natural ability to play and record music at the "spur of the moment."

"It's astonishing how the band can be so laid back and play so relaxed," he says. "Everything you will hear in this recording was done right here, live. There was no such thing as reaching an agreement, previous rehearsal or music arrangement."

Bass player Alex Bendaña says this album is a testament to the band's resilience, being together as a family, and making music for 15 years. "I think it's very rare for bands to start off in LA and end up with an amazing career," he says. "Every year was a different experience of evolution in the band or our individual person. We were always growing together."

La Santa Cecilia recently performed in front of thousands of adoring fans at Mexico City's Vive Latino, the country's biggest music festival. Speaking emotionally and tearing up, singer La Marisoul says that after 15 years of trying to connect to audiences in Mexico with their music, they're finally getting it. "Feeling that love and feeling that appreciation, and that connection with our brothers and sisters with our motherland, con México, that makes me feel very proud, very grateful, to be able to live this moment and share our story with people, now."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Betto Arcos
Betto Arcos is a freelance music journalist. He writes stories about music from around the world, with an emphasis on Latin America. He has been a contributor to NPR programming since 2009, when he began reviewing music for All Things Considered on the weekends.