The Civil Rights movement of the late 1950’s gave voice to many minorities in the United States, upon these events came about the creation of the Chicano movement, the term Chicana/o makes reference to the self identified, political identity, of someone living in the U. S. and has Mexican descent. This social movement not only instilled political activism and change, it transformed traditions, survival, and impacted the musical life of the Mexican people of Los Angeles.
East LA, to be specific, is where a large majority of Chicana/o musical bands have began their earliest of memories, amongst them is La Santa Cecilia, a Mexican-American band who identify themselves as a sextet group that distributes love and music from Los Angeles to the entire world. Through a combination of Latin culture, rock and world music, this group has been able to incorporate genres such as boleros, jazz and rumba to exemplify and reshape Chicano music in the United States.
The group is well known as they perform music which narrates topics that are relevant and impact their community such relating to civil rights, culture and migration, as seen their top hit “El Hielo,” which narrates deportations. They break the borders that amplify singing one genre or narrating one specific theme, La Santa Cecilia is able to unite and inform their community through the message their music conveys. The earliest traces of music in Los Angles can be traced back to as early as 1771, through the creation of the San Gabriel Mission, where the religious practitioners along with the indigenous would sing praises to God.
As Mexico received independence from Spain, there was a change in traditions as the Spanish had left traces of their culture and history behind, amongst these was the tradition of having feasts, weddings and funerals which were accompanied by music or what is known as bailes (dances). This continues until the outbreak of the Mexican-American war, although it was hard for Mexico to maintain its land, it was successfully able to surpass cultural extinction as Mexico in Los Angeles preserved. The Mexican music traditions remained and continued to evolve as immigration expanded and with it brought about new traditions.
Although migration had been constant within the previous years, by the early 20th century, there was a new era that evoked changes amongst topics of immigration and discrimination. There was a considerable change in demographic, economic, and social patterns, but migration continued, and most importantly, brought in a constant wave of new culture and traditions (Loza 1993). The historical context of early Los Angeles paves the way for the creation and shaping of Chicana/o bands which would later rise and influence a new wave of music.
Author George Lipsitz, states that the Chicano community in Los Angeles is a representation of a complicated cultural strategy which has been designed to preserve the resources of the past, or as we previously analyzed through Loza, the history that has been created through Mexican migration, by adapting them to the needs of the present, more specifically, by adopting them into popular music. Chicano artist took both residual and emergent elements of their community to create a new form of mass popular culture.
For example, serval bands, including Los Lobos, adapted the blending of Mexican folk music with the cultural fusions of modern Los Angeles to create genres such as Chicano rock-n-roll, this is one of many cases, others include the fusion of Afro Cuban, jazz and blues with Mexican styles in order to create a new blend of Chicana/o music. All of this was made in attempt to address the anguish of invisibility faced by their community, from oppression to discrimination, they fought to bring their own cultural traditions into the mainstream of mass popular culture (1986/7).
In order to understand the upbringing of La Santa Cecilia and their choice of employing the themes of community issues and unity throughout their music, we must first understand the history and the social movement from which they derive and which has impacted their career. Through the performance of some of its musicians at Placita Olvera, and some of the friends they had in common, La Santa Cecilia came about through concentric friendships. Member and percussionist, Miguel Ramirez, states, “And at some point this all came together and they both started intermingling and formed our identity.
With their lead singer Marisol Hernandez, guitarist Gloria Estrada, accordion and requinto player Jose “Pepe” Carlos, bassist Alex Bedana, percussionist Miguel Ramirez and drummer Hugo Vargas, the band encompasses a sextet of musicians. Ranging from the ages of late 20’s to early 30’s, a passion to hear and perform music both in English and Spanish and a mix from the genres of mariachi to jazz (Johnson 2011). Marisol describes the origins of the band to have formed in downtown L. A. , specifically Olvera Street, which strongly resembles Mexican culture through the art, food and music.
Olvera Street holds some of the largest festivities of Los Angles from Mexican Independence day to El dia de las madres (Mother’s Day), you can also find historic sights of the oldest adobe house build in Los Angels and some of the most beautiful woodwork imported from the state of Oaxaca, Mexico. These neighborhoods in which they grew up influenced the music that they heard, the art and culture they were exposed to along with the multiple issues revealed around discrimination and violence.
Growing up in East LA and visiting historical sites which highlighted their culture influences the issues which they became exposed to, would later support and eventually sing about. The origins of the band are associated with the patroness of music, St. Cecilia. Cecilia is considered a martyr as she surrendered her heart and soul to Jesus Christ before marriage, once she was executed, her home was turned into a church as they realized that she had performed several miracles.
A few years after her death, several artist began replicating art paintings of her, amongst these paintings are the multiple inclusions of broken instruments. It is said that the multiple images of her holding instruments are a representation of her love for music. In the iconography of the cathedral, St. Cecilia is officially represented as the icon of music. The cathedral states that Cecilia sang to God “only with her heart,” through the beauty of her voice, she influenced many who saw her as a goddess of music.
St. Cecilia is one of the first female figures who sang amongst males and was recorded through art and paintings, therefore breaking the stereotypes of women in music (Lucket 1972: 21-25). In regards to La Santa Cecilia, many similarities can be drawn from the previous example. The band is lead by a female singer and defies multiple stereotypes while addressing current issues in the community. La Santa Cecilia brings consciousness of community issues through music, and does so by relying in their cultural traditions, in this case, regarding the aspect of the traditional catholic church as they rely on St. Cecilia to guide them through their musical endeavors.
There’s a clear sociopolitical message that transcends throughout their multiple albums as well as their multiple songs. The political message revolves around the positive aspects of community. The band addresses the multiple issues faced within their people, including and not limited to, deportations, poverty and lack of education, they are able to transform these ideas by singing about equal opportunity, civil rights and the simple idea of dignity and respect, which belongs to every single human being (Varga 2014).
Most importantly, La Santa Cecilia centers its musical theme around the idea of culture. Through the language selection of both English and Spanish, they acknowledge the roots from where they derive, they incorporate the uses of cultural instruments such as the traditional Mexican accordion and el requinto, both which are widely used in Mexican and Latin American music. The accordion is not only symbolic is nortenas and corridos, it is widely used in Colombia and other Latin American countries who play cumbias.
The requinto originated in the Mexican state of Veracruz through the son jarocho, but is key element in other music genres such as bachata which began in the Dominican Republic. The music of La Santa Cecilia seeks to incorporate traditional instruments along with traditional genres in order to create music that speaks to all of the multiple Latin American communities by highlighting their struggles and resilience. Although La Santa Cecilia is famous for may of its hits such as Calaverita, La Negra and Como Dios Manda, throughout this paper, I will be analyzing one specific song called “El Hielo”.
When translated to English, “El Hielo” makes reference to frozen water or ice, throughout this song, it makes literal reference to ICE or the Immigration and Customs Enforcement team. ICE is responsible for the safety of U. S. borders and generally known for targeting undocumented immigrants in this country in order to have them deported. The chorus of the song reads, “El hielo anda suelto por esas calles,” which essentially translates to the ICE is loose on the streets looking for people to detain, the chorus is specifically seeking to raise awareness and inform the undocumented communities of what is happening in the streets.
The chorus continues with, “nunca se sabe cuando nos va a tocar,” or “you never know when they are going to come and get us. ” Throughout the song the singer narrates the lives of three undocumented individuals who came into the U. S. in search of a better life, she warns them to hide from ICE and incentivizes them to live in the shadows as if though they were delinquents, yet their only crime has been to go out and work for a better future.
The song states that thats what happens when you go to work for a better life, “eso pasa por salir a trabajar. ” The use of this poetic device along with the other multiple devices and song structure create the effect of a narrative, as previously stated, it tells the story of three different individuals and their work in the United States. Imagery is included in the stanza that narrates the character of Jose, he is a gardener who is said to be making gardens who like they are from Disneyland.
This implies that he works for rich people and puts a lot of effort into his job as we can all picture the beauty of Disneyland, yet, Jose drives his truck everyday to work without a license, as he is undocumented. Symbolism is also present in this case, in the life of the other character, Eva. She is a waitress who cleans, she must leave her work shinning like a perl, symbolizing the beauty and the effort that she must make in order to do her job, just so her boss won’t get mad and report her to ICE.
The last case is regarding the life of Martha, she came into the United States as a young girl, its extremely difficult for her to study and receive an education as she is undocumented. We know his to be true as there has been a constant struggle for the administration of DACA within academic institutions. The song says, “se se quedan con los laureles los que nacieron aca” which translates to everyone who was born here stays with the beautiful flowers or in this case “the prizes” or the benefits of being a citizen