Like a few other young bilingual Latino artists — the L.A.-based Guatemalan singer-songwriter Gaby Moreno and the Florida funk fusionists Elastic Bond come to mind — La Santa Cecilia is pointing U.S. pop not so much toward what F. Scott Fitzgerald called "the orgiastic future," but the orgiastic polyrhythmic here-and-now.
Krys compared the band's new album to an iPod shuffle. "The biggest virtue of the band is also the hardest thing about the band to explain to people, is that they don't fit anywhere," he said. What La Santa Cecilia's music embodies, Krys said, is "not the L.A. people know, but the L.A. that people in L.A. know."
One continuing challenge, Krys continued, is trying to explain that very L.A. sound to Latin American promoters and journalists who haven't seen the group perform.
That's true of La Santa Cecilia's wardrobe as well. Both for political and cultural reasons, Chicano bands sometimes feel more compelled to assert their Latin identity than their cross-border counterparts. That can produce some comic paradoxes.
"When we went to Mexico this last time we were doing this interview, and they sat us down with this band from Mexico called Vicente Gallo, like an alternative indie group," Ramirez said. "They're dressed like kind of British indie-looking rockers, and we're dressed like all super-folkloric."
Produced by Krys, "Treinta Días" was the first record to capture the band's complex musical identity, good-natured energy and technical chops. It reached No. 3 on iTunes' Latin music rankings, on par with releases by Pitbull and Marc Anthony, and the Top 10 of Billboard's Latin albums charts.
It also got a boost from Elvis Costello, who co-wrote one album track ("Losing Game") on which he sang a duet with La Marisoul. She returned the favor, supplying a guest vocal on Costello and the Roots' album, "Wise Up Ghost."
"Treinta Días" also established the group as a next-wave successor to quintessential L.A. outfits like Los Lobos, Quetzal and Ozomatli that pioneered cross-border fusions of rock, funk, punk, ska, cumbia, son jarocho, norteño and more. La Santa Cecilia toured last year with Los Lobos, which was celebrating its 40th anniversary, and closed out one show with a group encore of "La Bamba," forming a generational bridge stretching from Ritchie Valens onward.
Afterward, Los Lobos came to La Santa Cecilia's dressing room. Cesar Rosas kissed La Marisoul's hand, and David Hidalgo told the younger group, "It's your turn now."
As is often the case in the catch-all Grammy category of urban-alternative-Latin, this year's competition is formidable, with entries from veteran Mexican rock bands El Tri and Café Tacuba; the Buenos Aires hip-hop and disco-funk duo Illya Kuryaki and the Valderramas; and Los Amigos Invisibles, the Caracas-by-way-of-New-York acid-jazz funksters.
But when the members of La Santa Cecilia turn up at Staples Center on Sunday, many of their Eastside musical elders will be unabashedly rooting for them.
"Some bands come out of a garage," said Quetzal Flores, whose band Quetzal won last year's Latin alternative Grammy for its album "Imaginaries." La Santa Cecilia "come out of a community that is a continuum of a long trajectory of art and culture and music."
"So no matter what happens, they go out there and struggle. But they can always come back and land on a soft pillow that is their community."
[For the record 12:11 p.m. PST Jan. 25: An earlier version of this post identified bassist Alex Bendana as Salvadoran American. He is Nicaraguan.]