La Santa Cecilia: Música Without Borders (VIDEO)

12/21/2011 07:58 am ET

This article is part of a weekly series published in partnership with the Boyle Heights Beat. It appears on Wednesdays.

By Diana Arellano

On a hot evening at La Placita Olvera, La Marisoul belts out an upbeat, Mexican cumbia as people gather for a surprise performance by La Santa Cecilia, the up-and-coming band.

As the chatter lessens and the show begins, vendors and bystanders alike seem captivated by the unique mixture of traditional Mexican ballads, jazz, rumba and even Jewish klezmer music.

The lyrics can be heard clearly: "Cuando la luna sale a brillar todo puede suceder" ("When the moon shines, anything can happen."), from the song "La Negra." The sound of an accordion recalls a norteña band, yet the beat is that of a cumbia.

La Santa Cecilia came together as a band in September 2007 and consists of six local musicians. All are children of immigrants. Besides La Marisoul, who uses just one name, the band includes Gloria Estrada, guitarist, who is from Boyle Heights; José Carlos, accordionist; Alex Bendana, bass player; Miguel Ramírez, percussionist; and Hugo Vargas, drummer.

"We all agreed we wanted to make our own music [by] using influences like traditional music and mixing it with whatever we wanted to experiment with," said La Marisoul.

Each band member brings different rhythms and influences to the band's sound - from the Beatles to Café Tacuba to Ella Fitzgerald.

La Marisoul and Carlos met in La Placita Olvera where La Marisoul spent many hours of her childhood. The others soon joined, united by the desire to create a new type of music.

Estrada, who grew up across the street from the Estrada Courts in Boyle Heights, credits the vibe in her neighborhood with spurring her interest in music. The neighborhood was always alive with music from other homes or cars or from parties. "It's funny, like everyone's broke in the projects, but every Saturday you see them renting DJ lights. There's always money for a party," said Estrada.

The band hopes to break down barriers between genres, ages, and even cultures.

In high school many students, put themselves in specific music genres to identify themselves, but "now that we've gotten a little older, we just [want to] celebrate all the things that we like [in] all the different genres" said La Marisol. "We play and say proudly, I love Rock 'n' Roll, but I love banda too."

Often, people find their identity in their music, but Latinos are in many senses a mixed culture that celebrates its diversity. La Santa Cecilia's music quality and members seem to reflect this larger cultural phenomena.

The band members say it doesn't matter what people want to label them, as long as they embrace their music.

The band chose the name La Santa Cecilia in honor of the patron saint of musicians, whom Catholics celebrate each year on November 22. Besides wanting to honor the saint, La Marisoul said the band wanted a strong name.

Each band member sometimes works with other bands, sometimes playing other types of music or shows. They all make a living from music.

A little more than a year ago, the band sign with Rebeleon Entertainment, a record label founded by Sebastian Krys, an Argentinian-born producer and engineer who has won multiple Grammy Awards.

The members said that signing with the label has not changed their lives. Everyone in the band still does what he or she did before, from updating the band's Facebook page to bookings. They all do their parts and feel like they are doing what they love.

"When you like what you're doing, and you're having fun, it's like hell, yeah, we get to play tomorrow and hang out. People are going to come and we are going to play music," La Marisoul said.


Diana Arellano graduated in June from Roosevelt High School. She enjoys writing about many topics, from music to politics. She likes to listen to a variety of music, including pop, country, and jazz. She now attends Cal State Northridge and hopes to become a criminal profiler

This article was produced for BoyleHeightsBeat, which features the stories and blogs of community members in the Latino immigrant neighborhood of Boyle Heights, in Los Angeles, as well as the articles produced by the youth reporting staff of the Boyle Heights Beat, a bilingual quarterly newspaper and a project of the USC Annenberg School of Journalism and La Opinion.

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