Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify or Apple Music playlist at the bottom of the page.
When I first met the members of La Santa Cecilia, they were not too far removed from their first days as a band. We were gathered in a parking lot at an unofficial showcase during the 2008 South By Southwest music conference talking about their vision of mixing the traditional Mexican music they grew up with and the influences they absorbed later while growing up in the United States.
Fast forward nine years and the band has since become a major presence, getting nods of recognition from the likes of Los Lobos and Elvis Costello. Strong songwriting, expert musicianship and hard work is the "secret" of their success.
We played their music on the earliest versions of Alt.Latino (I still have the handmade tiny Mexican styled shopping bags and hand painted cover of their first EP made by lead singer Marisol "La Marisoul" Hernandez). La Santa Cecilia is one of the first bands that I've had a chance to watch from just about the beginning and chart their growth and successes.
Two EPs and four full-length albums are full of the vision they shared with me years ago. For the group's tireless dedication they have been rewarded with an ever expanding fan base and a Grammy Award for their 2013 album, Treinta Días.
Amar y Vivir, the band's fifth album in five years, is an audiovisual experience: 12 traditional Mexican boleros and rancheras, each track recorded live to tape at various historic open air plazas, historic cantinas and theaters in Mexico City. La Santa Cecilia is now so completely in command of its music, instruments and voices that these performances are flawless. The interplay between the band and La Marisoul is now on the level of sublime intuition. The visuals of the three videos released thus far are stunning and the locales are graced with not only a historic energy but also a few curious onlookers.
My favorite moment in the entire project passes by in a matter of seconds during the heartbreaker of a song "Leña de Pirul." The camera catches an older Mexican woman off to the side watching the band and silently mouthing the words, a distinct look of nostalgia on her face, obviously lost in some distant memory sparked by lyrics that sing of the pain of a lost love.