Q&A: La Santa Cecilia, Singer Got Schooled on Olvera Street

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Talking to La Santa Cecilia‘s frontwoman, La Marisoul (birth name Marisol Hernandez), makes me feel better about my crazy youth, but surprised at the same time. She gives off such an innocent vibe, rocking 50s-style thrift store dresses, bright tights, and cute lady-like cardigans at most of her shows. I guess it’s the soft baby face that hides the 31-year-old singer’s heartbreak-fueled rebellious past spent ditching high school and experimenting; or maybe it’s an L.A. thing ‘cause I can’t seem to remember high school at all. I caught up with the soulful singer — whose six-member band just got nominated for a Latin Grammy for best tropical song for “La Negra” — to talk about her Olvera Street roots and what inspires such beautiful music.


You learned how to sing on Olvera Street. That’s dope.

Yeah, in 1969 my grandpa built his shop on Olvera Street and sold pottery and other Mexican things. He had these little birds he trained to read fortunes too. Eventually, he built that little wagon with a burro that’s so symbolic of Olvera Street. We grew up there. That’s the root of what I sing—traditional boleros and rancheras I learned from the musicians that played at restaurants on Olvera Street. They taught me how to sing loud and pass the basket around.

Wow. So your dad runs the shop now and your uncle takes pictures of people on the burro. How has the street changed?

It’s still a beautiful place. Really, it hasn’t changed a lot. The same families still run the shops. We’re still always there.

Didn’t they jack up the rent for shopkeepers?

Yeah, the merchants were paying like $500 before and barely making it ‘cause there’s not a lot of business, and then they tripled it. My dad was like, ‘How the hell am I gunna pay for this shop?’ The beautiful thing is that the merchants united and fought back. They figured out something so the increase is gradual and not so abrupt.

Nice. So do you write all the music for the band or is it a collaborative process?

Usually I’m the one who writes the lyrics, but right now everyone brings something to the music—a feeling for a song or a melody. We’re getting ready to go back into the studio to record.




It’s a pretty big band. How do you keep track of each other?

We’re family. It’s like calling your cousin and saying, ‘Hey dude, we gotta practice.’ This is a priority. This is our baby. Everyone is very present in this band. We’re lucky that we respect and love each other. I mean, we get on each other’s nerves, but we call each other out.

You’re the first and only band to be signed to Grammy Award-winning producer Sebastian Krys’ Rebeleon Entertainment label. How has the label changed things?

It’s great to have that support and being the only band on the label, we still get to be very hands on with everything we do. It’s definitely nice to have help with tours, recording, and producing so we can focus on giving a good performance and writing good songs to take to the studio.

What inspires you as an individual to be creative?

Ai ai ai. Um. I’ve always been a creative person. I feed off of what happens when we perform. I go to the park and listen to the birds sing, read a book or a poem. I accept and love life. Whatever I can give back through singing, performing, and making little pins, I’m open to it.

How did you become so positive?

I’ve gone through my dark phases where everything was sadness and heartbreak. I grew up and accepted me. You can’t dwell on negative things. You have to move forward and look at the beauty of life. When I met our percussionist, we went on a hike and talked about our dreams. It’s nice to find someone who feels the same way. When you surround yourself with positive people, it’s going to affect you. We inspire each other to grow and believe in this dream that’s a little crazy at times.

I went old school and looked at your MySpace, where your track “Chicle” is described as a “feel good danceable norteña about turning a deaf ear to traditional folk wisdom and learning to value your own story.” What does that mean to you?

You can honor tradition and also ingest it with new ideas, a fusion of English and what’s happening now. We see the fruits of this at our shows. Kids bring their parents and parents bring their kids.

What music are you feeling right now?

I can’t stop listening to The Black Keys and Piñata Protest. They’re badass. They mix norteño with punk rock. Also, I like that Dominican singer, Rita Indiana y Los Misterios.

I love your style. What’s your favorite thrift store in L.A.?

St. Vincent De Paul in Lincoln Heights.

Orale. That’s mine too.

If it says vintage, I’m like no, that’s too expensive. [Laughs]


La Santa Cecilia performs at the International Accordion Festival in San Antonio, Texas 10/7 and El Museo del Barrio in New York 10/15.