Hoping against hope.
That’s something that always sounds so counterintuitive — and, frankly, counter-productive — but sometimes you take any port in a storm to weather the hopelessness of life.
La Santa Cecilia, the band, named for the patron saint of music, that began life by busking on Olvera Street in downtown Los Angeles and went on to win a Grammy, knows how powerful hope can be when intertwined with music. Bassist Alex Bendaña, accordionist and requinto player Jose “Pepe” Carlos, singer La Marisoul and percussionist Miguel “Oso” Ramirez are hard at work on a new album, selections of which will be performed on Friday night at the Oxnard Performing Arts and Convention Center. In discussion: Miguel Ramirez, La Santa Cecilia percussionist extraordinaire.
Cotner: I wanted to discuss the concept of hope as it stands with La Santa Cecilia now in these times.
Miguel Ramirez: The concept of hope is what we’re going to be bringing into our show in Oxnard. We ourselves have been through a lot of things in less than a few months; three of the band members, including myself, lost our fathers within the past year. Our singer just lost her father last week. We’ve been so lucky and blessed to have gone through so many amazing, beautiful things, but at the same time, we’ve experienced a lot of loss and, at our ages . . . well, I’m about to turn 40 this year and hope is definitely something that’s essential in my mind these days. Whether it be personal, political, emotional or spiritual, it’s the most important thing we have going for ourselves in the band right now. We have to really stay focused in these times that are very difficult, very depressing and challenging for someone, even of someone of sound mind! Hope is very difficult to maintain — but the message of our music is always about hope, love, and trying to inspire one another to maintain those kinds of principles and keep them alive.
Is there anything in particular that you as a player look to that inspires hope within you?
My greatest muse is music itself. The world can fluctuate and go crazy at moments, but I’m always so inspired by the power of music. How you can change someone’s life through music. I love drums and percussion, I love the significance of drums throughout the world and I love what music means to people. It’s one of the most uplifting, direct energies that exists in the world. The world, for me, will forever always be about music.
Where do you think you’d be if you didn’t have the band?
I’d still be playing music, for sure! [Laughs] If I didn’t have the band, I’d have probably gone into education and studied to become a professor or something. We started about 12 years ago in August, at my house in Alhambra. I still live in the city. We all played in other band situations around Los Angeles.
As the band profile increases, do you think you get audiences that are more invested in the music?
We had some of the most amazing audiences when we first started — people that were in our faces with enthusiasm, and not always at a regular concert venue; sometimes it was at a bar or whatever. We played the Hollywood Bowl a couple of years ago, and that was one of the most amazing concerts that I’ve been a part of, period. Everyone who came out was so proud of the band. When we played, we were in the middle of Mon Laferte and Café Tacvba and it was magical. The audience was just going off. Sometimes you play places where people are into it and get nuts. It always varies.
Does the current political climate do something to the way the audience perceives you?
Luckily, our audiences have always been very diverse. We’ve had some experiences where we could tell that the audiences are a little bit [more] uptight than others, and maybe not as liberal per se. But these times we’re in affect everybody. It even affects the most liberal, happy, joyful kind of person in everyday life. I think that now when some people go to our shows, it’s more of an escape, to where their humanity is still intact and they can feel joy and sadness, they can dance and jump up and down or whatever. We’ve had situations where there are certain songs, like “El Hielo,” that we present with which people have tried to pin us down as a political band. But our main interest is the spiritual uplifting of the crowd and our fans. We offer a different solution.
Experiencing all that loss recently makes your next album both personal and universal.
We have free rein with what we’ll do next. It’s really exciting because now, coming off our last album of covers addressing our lineage of our families and our culture, now we’re going to address these experiences that everyone has.
What is one thing that gives you, personally, the most hope now?
People coming together. On a larger scale throughout the world, and also in my personal life, seeing how fortunate I am to have amazing friends, an amazing band, an amazing girlfriend — all those things, people being there, being together and having each other’s backs.
La Santa Cecilia appears on Friday, March 8, at 8 p.m. at the Oxnard Performing Arts and Convention Center, 800 Hobson Way, Oxnard. For tickets and more information, call 805-486-2424 or www.oxnardperformingarts.com.