Q&A: La Santa Cecilia Takes Phoenix

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Last time La Santa Cecilia came through Phoenix was to play at the Stylos Awards, back in 2008. Now in 2013, they are gracing the city with their presence as the featured band at the Phoenix Art Museum this Friday for the Stylos Awards once again. Their blend of Latin, Cumbia, Bolero, World music, and African sounds has caught the attention of artists such as Elvis Costello and The Roots, whom they have collaborated with recently. I caught up with Alex and Pepe while they were en route to play a show, about the process of coming up with the concept for their video “El Hielo,” which features a cameo from AZ immigrant rights activist Erika Andiola, as well as where they like to stop by for the best Mexican food while they are on tour.

Alex Rivera, the director of Sleep Dealer, directed your music video for “El Hielo,” a song that follows the narrative of undocumented immigrants being profiled for their immigration status. Erika Andiola, the AZ immigrant rights activist, is also in the video. How did you all come up with the concept for the video?
We got together with Alex Rivera and we talked about the project and what we wanted in the video. Everyone had an input on it. We’re really fortunate to have come across all these people, which I think explains so much of what’s going on right now with immigration reform, and also what its like to be living undocumented in this country. I am undocumented; my name is Pepe, and I was brought here at the age of 6. We wanted to tell a story, and the video helps to depict what our life is like here in the United States while living undocumented. NDLON, the national day laborer organization, heard the song and they referred us to work with Alex Rivera to put the whole project together. We are really thankful, and to NDLON for making this video.

Will playing “El Hielo” in Phoenix carry more significance because Phoenix is where SB 1070 was written?
It definitely does. It’s been about four years since the last time that we’ve played in Phoenix because of SB 1070. We are really happy to be going back to Phoenix. We actually played in Tucson about a month ago, and it does give it a new meaning now, going back to Phoenix and sharing these songs with everyone. The last time that we played there was four years ago at the Stylos Awards. We were scared of traveling in Phoenix because we didn’t want to get stopped. I didn’t want to get stopped, and asked for my papers. The band didn’t want to put me through that, so we are really happy to be going back now, and sharing our music. It’s especially important to play in Arizona because its such a central area where immigration and all the laws are really, really hard on immigrants.

You’ve played the Stylos Awards before?
Yeah, we’re extremely happy and I think that it’s going to be a great night for the recognition of journalists, musicians, and everyone in Arizona.

What are your favorite songs to perform off the new album, Treinta Dias?
We are really happy because we have a collaboration with Elvis Costello and then we have “El Hielo” and Monedita,” which is our second single, but one of my favorite songs on the album is “En Fin.”

How does the songwriting process work for La Santa Cecilia?
Everyone is involved. Everyone contributes to the songwriting, Marisol will write the lyrics, and one of us comes up with the music, and we all contribute, and we hear the songs in different ways and we all contribute to the music, to the songwriting, it’s a collaborative thing for La Santa Cecilia.

Is there a process to how a song is written in either English or Spanish, or does it just flow naturally?
It comes naturally. We are a bilingual group, so we communicate in English, and then in Español. Whatever we’re feeling or wherever inspiration comes; we just communicate it through English or Spanish, and then that just develops into a song. We don’t constantly think about it, and go, “Oh I’m going to write a song in Spanish.” I think the emotion and feeling just comes out that way, and then we express it, and write a song about it.

You’ve worked with Elvis Costello, and performed with Carla Morrison. What other artists would you like to work with?
We have many influences. Everyone in the band would definitely like to work with Café Tacuba someday. We would definitely like to play a song with Ramon Ayala, Intocable, and several others, but one of the bands we really aspire to work with is Café Tacuba.

You are from L.A., and L.A. obviously has great Mexican Food, but is there anything you are looking forward to eating in Phoenix?
There’s a place we always usually pass by in Tucson; we haven’t been to Phoenix that much, but in Tucson, we already found a spot that we like the Chile Colorado, and burritos. There’s this other place with hot dogs . . .

Guero Canelo? Sonoran Hot Dogs? Did you eat there?
Yes! Guero Canelo. Those are good; those are awesome. It’s like a ritual when we are passing by – we stop by and get some.

What’s next for La Sana Cecilia?
We are going to Mexico in December, and playing a show out there then promoting Treinta Dias. That’s a big thing for us because we usually play here in the U.S. We’re really looking forward to 2014 and to keep on playing different cities, going back to the east coast, and donde nos abran la puerta, ahí estaremos!