Feministing Jamz: La Santa Cecilia on feminism, immigration, and storytelling

our mudflap girl, jammin on her headphones

La Santa Cecilia is one of those bands whose raw energy stops you in your tracks from the jump. I first encountered them live at the Pachangafest in Austin, TX in 2012. On my way from one stage to the next, I was stopped in my tracks in front of a little side stage – pulled in by the voice, the music, the sheer magnetism of La Santa Cecilia who, at the time, I’d never heard of before. Their music is a mix of Pan-American rhythms — you’ll hear cumbias, boleros, some bossa nova — all held by La Marisoul’s booming voice.

It’s been a really big couple of years for them, and earlier this year they won a very well-deserved Grammy, which they dedicated to the 11 million undocumented people in the United States.  We’re fans here at Feministing, so when I saw that they’d be in New York for the Latin Alternative Music Conference I jumped at the opportunity to meet up and chat for a bit.

Band members against a green wall. La Marisoul wears cat-eye glasses, a bold pink lip, and a leather jacket. The guys are wearing button-ups. Miguel's is embroiderered in white and red.

La Santa Cecilia (Alex, Miguel, Pepe, and La Marisoul)

I’m here to report that their energy and charm offstage is every bit as present as it is onstage – La Marisoul (lead singer), Pepe (accordion & requinto), Alex (bass), and Miguel (percussion) are insightful as well as talented. We spent the time we had together switching seamlessly from Spanish to English, like so many of us who have our feet in more than one world. I’ve translated it all into English, but for those of us who feel most at home in the in-betweens, I’m posting the original Spanglish too. Don’t miss their newest (and totally awesome) album, Someday New, below. Disfruten!

I’d love to know how – or if – feminism has in any way affected the way you make your music, the creative process, how you think of your art. 

La Marisoul: Well for me as a woman, I think so, yes, because I always learned from my mom and my mom has always been a fighter. And my dad too, who always was saying…how do you say, that feeling of not feeling less, or that I can’t because I’m a girl, or that he would treat me differently because I was a girl, you know? The opposite actually, you have to be chingona, you can’t let people mess with you. So I think that strength, to say that we’re nobody’s victims, is something important about us as a band, to fight for our dreams, to look ahead and not think about what we can’t do. Or like if we’re too fat, if we’re too dark-skinned, if we’re not the right genre, if we’re all over the place with our music – to always feel proud of where we come from and what we do. And present it that way too – with care and pride. Like, here we are, this is what we are, and we hope you like it.

Alex: And it’s cool to have a female perspective, you know? It’s not just the guys writing songs from the guys’ point of view.

La Marisoul: It’s great, I’m blessed to be with a group of guys that love their mamas, they have definitely had a big influence in their lives – I’ve met them all you know? They’re strong and admirable women. I feel really happy that my bandmates, just as they are macho and bien chingones, they’re also very sensitive and you know, when we’re on the road, it’s not just guys and a girl – we’re together.

Your music has gone into themes of immigration, and immigrant justice – like ICE El Hielo – what drove you to include these themes in your music? How did you decide to team up with the National Day Laborer Organizing Network to do the video?

Pepe: When we started the band, it was never meant to be a political band. But we did want to share our stories. And our stories meant being bilingual and bicultural in this country, but also being children of immigrants, or immigrants ourselves. So that was an important story to tell. Also because we hear on the news everyday that a lot of people are getting deported, because of their status here in the U.S. or not having the proper documentation. We wanted to humanize [deportations]. All these people have families. All these people have emotions, and feelings. And children are being left behind — not being raised by their moms, their dads, who are being deported — so we wanted to humanize this whole issue of immigration. And we also feel really strongly that we need an immigration reform. I was brought here at the age of six years old, and I was undocumented for like 26 years of my life. Fortunately now, I’ve been able to become a resident, but we still need to speak up. We have to raise our voice, we have to stay informed, and it’s not just about one person making change, but all of us — everyone has to be informed so that we can demand what we deserve.

VBF: I also thought it was beautiful that you included DREAMers in the video – I loved that. 

La Marisoul: Yes! When we wrote the song, remember when we wrote the song? Between tears and telling each other our experiences, [we] wrote this song.  And we showed it to our producer, who shared it with the National Day Laborers Organizing Network, and they were like moved, you know? It’s amazing the magic and the power of songs — how they can move people and inspire. We’re so grateful to have activists, and real people that are living through this that were the stars on this video. Erica Andiola, Isaac…it was very important to us, and we’re very grateful to everyone who was a part of making this video and telling this story so people can hear and understand, and try to get what’s going on. It’s not just about numbers – we’re humans, families, siblings.

Absolutely! And, this is interesting because the interview is in both languages, but as a bilingual person, I was also asking myself — when you’re writing songs or in your creative process…do you choose whether to write in English or Spanish as an intuitive process, or because of who you want to hear your message, or a little bit of both? How is that process as bilingual folks? 

Alex: I think it’s about the music. We listen to merengue, we listen to rock n roll, so when we want to write a song song, sometimes we feel like, “we want to write a rock n roll song and sing it in Spanish,” you know? Or take a merengue song and sing it in Spanish, or English. In the end it’s something that comes from within each of us.

La Marisoul: And sometimes we don’t even think whether a song will be in English or Spanish. Sometimes it’s both, it’s Spanglish, but sometimes you feel like it’s more enjoyable to say things in Spanish. Like if we talk about love, I feel sometimes it’s more beautiful to talk about love in Spanish, or talk about something else, I don’t know, in English. But sometimes we don’t even think, sometimes we’re just writing music just to write music and it just comes out.

Who are some women artists you’re listening to right now and finding inspiration in?

Miguel: I’ve been listening a lot to Jill Scott’s first record. I love the production and just, I love that record, so I’ve been listening to that a lot.

Pepe: I also like Pink. We saw her at the Grammy’s performing for the first time, and she was amazing.

Miguel: I’ve been listening a lot to Nora Jones, too.

Alex: Erykah Badu.

La Marisoul: I’ve been listening a lot to this singer from Brooklyn, her name’s Xenia Rubinos, and I love her. I lover her, so much. Her voice, her lyrics. I’m a fan. A really great friend, and just an amazing talent.

[Xenia Rubinos was part of Feministing Jamz list of amazing Afro-Latinas - check it out!]

VBF: You’re on a desert island and you can bring one drink, one food, and one feminist.

Miguel: I would get Vietnamese food. Just all of it. And I would probably bring Toni Morrison. And to drink, coconut water.

Pepe: I’d bring some mole, some horchata to drink, and I’d bring my wife. [Everyone: Awwwww]

Alex: I’ll bring gallo pinto, with plantains. Beverage, I think coconut water too, I think that’s the way we’ll survive. And I’ll take my girlfriend.

VBF: Such loving dudes!

La Marisoul: Me, I’d take water. Because I mean I’m sure there’s coconuts, and plantains, I hope. I think I’d take my mom, I love her you know? And she’s real smart, she’d be like “OK let’s do this.” We’d figure it out, you know? And to eat, fruit, lots of fruit. Pineapple, watermalen, stay hydrated.

Miguel: Actually, I changed my mind, I’m taking Maya Angelou.

VBF: You’re taking Maya?

Miguel: Yeah. That lady always makes me cry man, when she talks? Yeah. Maya Angelou.

———————————-

Me gustaría saber como – o si – el feminismo de cualquier manera ha afectado como hacen su musica, el proceso creativo, como piensan de su arte.

La Marisoul: Pues para mi como mujer, yo creo que sí, porque pues yo aprendí de mi mama y mi mama siempre ha sido una mujer muy luchona que nunca se ha dejado de nadie. Y tambien mi papa, que tambien que siempre me dijo como…how do you say, that feeling of not feeling less, or that I can’t because I’m a girl, or that he would treat me differently because I was a girl, you know? Al contrario no, he was like, tienes que ser chingona, no te tienes que dejar. Entonces, yo creo que esa fuerza, de no decir que yo voy a ser victima de nadie, es algo importante de nosotros, de la banda, de luchar por nuestros sueños, de mirar hacia adelante y no pensar en lo que no podemos hacer. O que si somos…if we’re too fat, if we’re too dark-skinned, if we’re not the right genre, if we’re all over the place with our music – to always feel like, orgullo de donde venimos y de lo que hacemos. Y de presentarselo a la gente asi no – con cariño y con orgullo. De que ey, aqui estamos, this is what we are, and we hope you like it.

Alex: And it’s cool to have a female perspective, you know? It’s not just the guys writing songs from the guys’ point of view.

La Marisoul: It’s great, I’m blessed to be with a group of guys that love their mamas, they have definitely had a big influence in their lives – I’ve met them all you know? Son mujeres fuertes y admirables. Me siento muy feliz de que mis compañeros, así como son machos y son bien chingones, tambien a la vez son muy sensibles and you know, when we’re on the road, it’s not just guys and a girl – we’re together.

Your music has gone into themes of immigration, and immigrant justice – like ICE El Hielo – what drove you to include these themes in your music? How did you decide to team up with the National Day Laborer Organizing Network to do the video?

Pepe: When we started the band, it was never meant to be a political band. But we did want to share our stories. And our stories meant being bilingual and bicultural in this country, but also being children of immigrants, or immigrants ourselves. So that was an important story to tell. Also because we hear on the news everyday that a lot of people are getting deported, because of their status here in the U.S. or not having the proper documentation. We wanted to humanize [deportations]. All these people have families. All these people have emotions, and feelings. And children are being left behind — not being raised by their moms, their dads, who are being deported — so we wanted to humanize this whole issue of immigration. And we also feel really strongly that we need an immigration reform. I was brought here at the age of six years old, and I was undocumented for like 26 years of my life. Fortunately now, I’ve been able to become a resident, but we still need to speak up. Tenemos que alzar la voz, tenemos que estar informados, y no solamente se trata de una persona que tiene que hacer el cambio, si no de todos nosotros, de toda la gente que tiene que estar informada para así poder pedir lo que nos merecemos.

VBF: Y me parece tambien muy bonito que hayan incluido activistas en el video – me fascinó. 

La Marisoul: Si, si! Cuando escribimos la canción, remember when we wrote the song? Entre lágrimas, y contando nuestras experiencias, [we] wrote this song. And we showed it to our producer, who shared it with the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, and they were like moved, you know? It’s amazing the magic and the power of songs — how they can move people and inspire. We’re so grateful to have activists, and real people that are living through this that were los protagonistas pues, en este video. Erica Andiola, Isaac, entonces…it was very important to us, and we’re very grateful to everyone who was a part of making this video and telling this story so people can hear and understand, and try to get what’s going on. It’s not just about numbers – somos humanos, familias, hermanos.

Absolutely! And, this is interesting porque la entrevista esta en los dos idiomas, pero yo como persona bilingue, tambien me pregunto – cuando ustedes estan escribiendo canciones, o haciendo su proceso creativo…ustedes escogen escribir en inglés o español como proceso intuitivo, o porque quien va a escuchar su mensaje, un poquito de los dos. Como es ese proceso como bilingues?

Alex: Yo creo que es como la musica, no? Escuchamos merengue, escuchamos rock n roll, o sea que cuando queremos escribir una cancion, a veces tenemos esa sensación de que “queremos escribir una rock n roll song y cantarla en espanol.” No? O agarrar una cancion de merengue y cantarla en español o inglés. Entonces viene siendo algo que nace de cada uno.

La Marisoul: Y a veces ni pensamos, en que si la canción va a ser en inglés o en español. A veces it’s both, it’s Spanglish, pero a veces se siente, se disfruta más decir cosas en español. Como si hablamos de amor, siento que a veces es mas bonito hablar de amor en espanol, o hablar de un tema, no sé en inglés. Pero a veces ni lo pensamos, a veces we’re just writing music just to write music and it just comes out.

Who are some women artists you’re listening to right now and finding inspiration in?

Miguel: I’ve been listening a lot to Jill Scott’s first record. I love the production and just, I love that record, so I’ve been listening to that a lot.

Pepe: I also like Pink. We saw her at the Grammy’s performing for the first time, and she was amazing.

Miguel: We’ve been listening a lot to Nora Jones, too.

Alex: Erykah Badu.

La Marisoul: I’ve been listening a lot to this singer from Brooklyn, her name’s Xenia Rubinos, and I love her. I lover her, so much. Her voice, her lyrics. I’m a fan. A really great friend, and just an amazing talent.

[Xenia Rubinos was part of Feministing Jamz' list of amazing Afro-Latinas - check it out!]

VBF: You’re on a desert island and you can bring one drink, one food, and one feminist.

Miguel: I would get Vietnamese food. Just all of it. And I would probably bring Toni Morrison. And to drink, coconut water.

Pepe: I’d bring some mole, some horchata to drink, and I’d bring my wife. [Everyone: Awwwww]

Alex: I’ll bring gallo pinto, con plátanos. Beverage, I think coconut water too, I think that’s the way we’ll survive. And I’ll take my girlfriend.

VBF: Such loving dudes!

La Marisoul: Y yo, I’d take water. Because I mean I’m sure there’s coconuts, and plátanos, I hope. I think I’d take my mom, I love her you know? Y ella es bien inteligente, she’d be like “OK vamos a hacer esto.” We’d figure it out, you know? Y de comer fruta, you know, mucha fruta. Piña, sandía, stay hydrated.

Miguel: Actually, I changed my mind, I’m taking Maya Angelou.

VBF: You’re taking Maya?

Miguel: Yeah. That lady always makes me cry man, when she talks? Yeah. Maya Angelou.

1bfea3e7449eff65a94e2e55a8b7acda-bpfull Verónica highly recommends seeing La Santa Cecilia live if you can catch them!

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