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Cecilia

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The little girl who belted out boleros after school at the donkey cart in Olvera Street is now fronting one of L.A.'s best new Latin bands. The band's called La Santa Cecilia - in tribute to the Catholic patron saint of musicians - and it switches from Boyle Heights norteño conjunto to Brazilian batucada and makes the girls swoon with romantic boleros.

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The little girl, Marisol Hernandez, is now 28 years old. Her grandfather was the first to get a permit for the donkey cart next to the kiosk in Olvera Street. Like the donkey carts on Avenida Revolucion in Tijuana, people pay to get a picture taken there. It was good for business to see a cute girl singing with the mariachis and trios. Then she got good at belting out the lyrics of heartache and passionate love. And more money fell into the basket. She didn't truly understand the lyrics, she says, until she had her heart broken for the first time. "Sabras Que Te Quiero" she says, is the key song from that time in her life.

Marisol lived for about four years in Cuernavaca, Mexico with her mother after her parents split up. That why she's able to switch seamlessly from Spanish to English, in speech and in song. She makes money with another side band, a trio that gets hired for parties from Koreatown (Mexican baptisms are her favorite, she says) to Beverly Hills (hired as background music, she says).

Percussionist Miguel "Oso" Ramirez and guitarist Gloria Estrada founded the six-piece band in late 2007. They're both hesitant to pigeonhole it into a musical genre. Oso says La Santa Cecilia formed after nighttime jams at his Alhambra home. The band plays whatever feels natural, he says. What's natural is in large part the music each member grew up hearing. For Oso it's his parents Juan Gabriel and Rocio Durcal ballads, mixed in with the Led Zeppelin and Marvin Gaye he listened to while attending Walnut High School in the San Gabriel Valley.

Gloria is a Roughrider, so for her that Boyle Heights upbringing means mariachi and the accordion and bass of norteño music. She studied at Pasadena City College's prestigious music program then transferred to USC to earn a jazz guitar degree. She's still pissed off at one of her USC instructors. She felt mariachi and jazz would fuse well together, maybe like chocolate and peanut butter go well together. This is not a mariachi program, it's a jazz program, her instructor firmly said. She's in good company. Can't you hear Bela Bartok's music teacher saying, 'Bela, this is not a Hungarian folk program.' The same may have happened to Igor Stravinsky and Silvestre Revueltas. So Gloria founded a mariachi club at USC in 2006 and now puts in a lot of her free time to La Santa Cecilia in between her day job as a drug rehab counselor.

Eastsiders Quetzal, Domingo Siete and Ozomatli are bands they look up to. And they crave the artistic career of Mexican rockers Cafe Tacuba. For the time being you can hear them weekly playing in front of the bullfighter painting at the gentrified La Cita on Hill Street in Downtown L.A.

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