Take A Trip To Downtown L.A. With La Santa Cecilia

Jun 22, 2012
Originally published on June 22, 2012 6:50 pm

Named for the patron saint of musicians, La Santa Cecilia has deep roots in the immigrant community of Los Angeles. Yet the band's six members draw inspiration not only from their rich heritage, but also from their everyday lives growing up embedded in American culture.

During a short, recent trip to historic Olvera Street in downtown L.A. — "It's a little street with little shops resembling any town in Mexico or Latin America" — singer Marisol Hernandez describes the hopes and dreams the city represents.

"We want La Santa Cecilia to grow," Hernandez says. "We want to travel. We want to fulfill our dreams of playing music and also representing who we are. [We were] born here from immigrant parents. All of us kids who were brought here when we were young feel a real strong tie to where our parents came from, but [we also feel] a root, a tie and a love for the States, for being from the United States, and for having opportunities and taking advantage of that."

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And, finally this hour, La Santa Cecilia. She's the patron saint of musicians. It's also the name of an up and coming band with deep roots here in Los Angeles, in the city's Mexican community. The group got its start in the oldest section of downtown L.A. on historic Olvera Street.

Marisol Hernandez is its lead singer. Here she is describing life on Olvera Street and the sound of La Santa Cecilia in her own words.

MARISOL HERNANDEZ: (Singing in foreign language). Olvera Street is, like, the heart of L.A. It's a little street with little shops resembling any little town in Mexico or Latin America. My family has a shop with Mexican goods and my grandfather started the classic burro. The burro is a donkey cart. It used to have a live donkey, but I guess now it's a stuffed donkey. And it's a donkey where a lot of kids and a lot of Angelinos have come up to take photos at and, I mean, it's a classic L.A. shot.

(Singing in foreign language). I grew up on Olvera Street and this is, like, the base of where I learned my singing trade. There was a lot of musicians, a lot of mariachis, a lot of (unintelligible) coming, you know, down the street to work at the restaurants, to sing at the plaza. And so I would meet these musicians and I think I was about 10 years old when I learned my first song. It was like a ranchero song that my mom taught me and they threw in the basket a dollar and once I saw, whoa, I can make money out of this, you know, like singing and passing the basket around, I was like, this is what I want to do. (Singing in foreign language).

La Santa Cecilia formed about four years and a half. Olvera Street, again, was a big part of us coming together. Pepe Carlos, which is the accordionist and the requintero player in the band, he played here with his brother. And, one day years later, after we weren't in our teens anymore, my father suggested, hey, remember those guys? You should get together with them and you should start a trio and so we did.


HERNANDEZ: And, sometimes, we'd need a percussionist player, so we'd invite our friend Miguel and, one day, we went to a party, at a drunken night, we met Gloria Estrada, who plays the guitar. She later brought Alex, which plays the upright bass and that's how La Santa Cecilia started and we started playing cumbias and jazz and then rock and then rancheros and now it's been almost five years and here we are.


HERNANDEZ: When we were writing music, we thought we should have a cumbia because a cumbia song is like a dance song and we decided to write this song called "La Negra."


HERNANDEZ: "La Negra" is a term of endearment for someone who's dark-skinned. Also, it could be used as a term for death or how we'd say, (unintelligible).


HERNANDEZ: We were nominated for a Latin Grammy for that and that was a big honor for us because we were being considered with bands like (unintelligible), with artists like Ruben Blades, with musicians like Gilberto Santa Rosa. These are all people that we admire, that we've been listening to. And to be named between those names is a big validation to the work and the love that we've put in the band.


HERNANDEZ: We're born here from immigrant parents, all of us kids who were brought here when we were young. And that feel of a real strong tie to where our parents came from, but also feeling a root and a tie and a love for the States, for being from United States, for having opportunities and for taking advantage of that because I think that's important, that sometimes we only see the struggle of our parents or we see numbers and immigration and all these bad things about immigration and it's not. It's not that because there's a lot of art, a lot of music, a lot of writing. There is beauty, not just the nonsense.


BLOCK: Marisol Hernandez is lead singer of the Los Angeles band, La Santa Cecilia.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.