I was listening to National Public Radio while driving one day because, you know, that’s just how I roll. I forget which show was on. All I remember is that the host’s voice sounded like a librarian moonlighting as a phone sex operator, but I don’t think that narrows it down much. Anyway, they featured this unique rendition of the song “Strawberry Fields Forever” by the Beatles and I’ve been listening to the tune on a loop ever since.
The cover was done by a Mexican-American band based in Los Angeles called La Santa Cecilia (named after the patron saint of music). The LA Times has described the voice of the lead singer, Marisol “La Marisoul” Hernandez, as a blend between Janis Joplin and Celia Cruz. But I’m a 90’s child with proverbial “no respect for the classics” and thus embarrassingly not-too-familiar with either of those two aforementioned legends. So, personally, I would describe her voice as a mix between the sultry Selena and the bluegrassy Toshi Reagon with a dollop of Tracy Chapman’s deep soul.
Right from the start, La Santa Cecilia respectfully makes “Strawberry Fields Forever” their own, substituting the original’s introductory progression of psychedelic Mellotron notes with delicate plucks of the harp. After that, you’re quickly arrested by La Marisoul’s pristine vocals marinated in her rich Spanish accent. Gradually, the song picks up the tempo and blossoms into a flavorful rhapsody of surprising sounds. We’re treated to a dynamic fusion of diverse Latin influences from mariachi to samba and many more.
La Marisoul also displays a quirky fusion of styles with her fashion sensibility. Her wardrobe consists of everything from vintage polka dot dresses to voluminous tulle ensembles cinched with thick neon patent leather belts. Furthermore, she adorably ends all her answers to questions during interviews with, “No?” It’s hard not to love her.
The music video’s animation leaves something to be desired visually (in fact, you might prefer to hear the song accompanied only by the single’s cover art–which is beautiful), but conceptually it’s rather poignant—a tribute to the undocumented migrant workers who thanklessly pick our strawberries and whom, La Marisoul insists, “deserve a chance to live in this country with dignity.”
I’d like to take credit for discovering La Santa Cecilia but the group already won the Grammy for Best Latin Rock, Urban or Alternative Album in 2014 so perhaps I’m actually rather late to the party. But I really think they knocked this Beatles cover out of the park so they deserve all the praise they can get!