Alex Bendana of La Santa Cecilia Talks Music History, Mexico, and the New Live Album
Ever since the Los Angeles based band La Santa Cecilia won the coveted Grammy in 2014 (Best Latin Rock, Urban or Alternative Album for “Treinta Días”) they have been touring, creating and collaborating. Alex Bendana, the band’s bassist, certainly agrees with how things have been moving for the 4-piece group.
“It’s been a busy couple of years. We’ve been definitely traveling more throughout the United States, been reaching out a lot to Mexico, Colombia, Argentina, a lot of doors have been opening up for us.”
Their newest project, the live audiovisual recording “Amar Y Vivir”, is a step into the past as well as an evolution of La Santa Cecilia, according to Bendana. “[It’s] everything that we’ve worked for and done for our music, and it’s so great that we can see the band growing and evolving and connecting with a lot of different places.”
For this album the band traveled to Mexico City to record, sticking to legendary locations in Latin American music history in order to film videos for each of their 12 tracks. Of those songs, 11 are covers of classic Mexican and Latin American songs that range from boleros, corridos, and rancheras. The original song the band wrote for “Amar y Vivir” is a ballad called “Como Dios Mande”.
Bendana says that going to Mexico and focusing “Amar Y Vivir” on the traditional music of their heritage is partly for their own reflection purposes, and how their beginnings in California came from the exposure of growing up with Mexican and Latin music from the past. “Being a band from LA we always dreamt that we wanted to reach out to Mexico. The way it came about was that for a long time we wanted to make a traditional album with boleros, rancheras, huapangos, we always had the urge to do that.”
With this in frame, the group looked into the possibility of recreating that live band street experience. “So why don’t we go and capture the essence of playing it live, doing this record live,” says Bendana
“We wanted to make an album that was kind of like an homage to this great Mexican music and Latin American music so we were talking about it with our producer, (Latin & regular Grammy award-winning Sebastian Krys), he suggested, ‘if you’re gonna go, why go to the studio, so many people have made these traditional albums in the studio.’”
So it was in this decision when the members of La Santa Cecilia, Lead singer Marisol “La Marisoul” Hernandez, Accordionist and Requinto player Jose “Pepe” Carlos, Percussionist Miguel “Oso” Ramirez and Bassist Alex Bendana finalized the feeling of their album. It would be a throwback to not only their roots of musical history and a homage to it, but a look back at their own start, playing in the streets, at fairs, weddings and plazas in Los Angeles.
Over the course of five days the team recorded the new material, twelve songs at different sites around Mexico City, home to a fervent street food scene, passionate Catholic religion, and the musical history La Santa Cecilia was trying to emulate in their own unique style. The locations included Plaza Garibaldi, the Zócalo and Salón Tenampa.
Bendana adds, “It was just amazing. To be able to go to Garibaldi, places where José Alfredo Jiménez would sing, or would probably write songs. So for us to just be there and record these songs in different locations was incredible. I think that’s the beauty of this album: that it’s live, it’s in Mexico City, you’re not only going to be able to listen to it but you’re also going to be able to see it, because we also had a video production team, and they captured it visually. So it’s a pretty amazing project considering the fact that we just did it live. So you’ll be able to hear it and and see it.”
When it came time to dwindle down the list of locations to only twelve, Bendana adds it helped having everyone help with the decisions on where to shoot. “There’s countless locations in Mexico City that are beautiful, but I think it was a collaborative process with the production team, they would suggest areas that they thought some of the songs would go well in. It was constant communication and ideas coming out [and] we finally fitted every song to a place, which kind of felt like where that song would live in.”
More than an homage, Bendana relates that the album resonates with who they are as a group and the experience of growing up as Latinos. “These songs taught us how to feel, how to fall in love and fall out of love. How to get over love. These songs that teach us a lot about being Latino, and for us to be able to record it and have this generation listen to this music and hopefully fall in love with it all over again, it’s a great thing.”
This year the band celebrates their decade of being together, and Bendana says part of this project involved an organic approach that brought them back to their creative beginnings, a nostalgia laden music making process.
“A lot of those songs, they come from us really just playing them at a hangout or something, or hanging out with one of our members at their house doing a little carne asada, having a couple beers and eventually we’ll bust out the guitar and start playing one of these songs. That’s where most of these songs really came out of. It’s ‘Una noche de bohemia’ for us.”
While they are currently busy promoting and touring with this current album when asked about future collaborations Bendana says that the band does have an open view on the future. “We’ve done so many collaborations with different artists that I’m just savoring it right now. I guess in the future there’s a lot of artists we love, that we’re influenced by. Kendrick Lamar is pretty cool, it would be awesome to do something completely different from our genre, do some hip hop or something. Or take it back and do some Vallenato with Carlos Vives. We’re open to anything, any new ideas and new things. We’re really not afraid to try different things. As long as we have the time.”
Bendana says that they are happy with the final product, and hope listeners and fans are as well. “It’s a traditional Bolero album with a lot of feeling. It’s a live album, it will take you back or [have you] fall in love with this type of music, traditional Mexican music. It’s just a part of who we are, and we’re opening our hearts and sharing that world that we grew up with and hopefully people will appreciate it and keep this music going, keep it alive.”
“Amor Y Vivir” is out now. More information at lasantacecilia.com.