Feb 8, 2007
Musical Melting Pot
Whether you call it Latin hip hop or a kind of dark soul jazz or orchestrations in electronica, there is no doubt the music of the New York City-based group Si*Sé is nothing short of rousing, provocative and ingenious.
Founded in 2000, by its singer Carol Cárdenas and DJ U.F. Low (a.k.a. Cliff Cristofaro), Si*Sé (pronounced see-seh), also features Ryan Farley on drums, Morgan Phillips on bass, Neil Ochoa on percussion and Jeannie Oliver on viola who has since been replaced by Tarrah Reynolds on violin.
“I think from the time we started the band to now, we've seen a lot of growth in Latin lounge and electronica music,” said Cárdenas “It's always evolving and it's nice that a lot of it is being heard now more than ever.”
Cárdenas is not only a singer/songwriter, but also a well-known DJ within the house music scene and met Cristofaro through a mutual friend. Soon enough they were in the studio together recording a five-song demo that eventually fell into the hands of Talking Heads singer David Byrne and founder of Luaka Bop Records.
“I think we are both very picky about sounds because we listen to records constantly,” said Cárdenas on her and Cristofaro's shared passion for DJ-ing. “We are shopping for records and we are DJ-ing and constantly to listening to different styles and sounds, so I think it makes us definitely very open to music and because of that, we love to explore different genres.”
With the completion of their studio collection, the duo then decided to put a live group together and enlisted their friends - Cristofaro knew Farley from college while the remaining members were initially friends of Cárdenas. As New York City-based players, their influences pervade the music of Si*Sé with the diverse urban culture commonplace in the quintessential American city. Cristofaro, who grew up in Brooklyn, came to appreciate the fertile and thriving underground hip hop and DJ music atmosphere.
“The way we write I think is a little unconventional, but a lot of it will start with tracks I will be playing around with. Basically I'll give those outlines to Carol and then she and I will sort of flesh out the meat and potatoes of the song. Then from there we kind of bring it to our studio - we have a place in Queens - and we all get together as a band and throw it in a pot and see who brings what to the table,” said Cristofaro.
At 14, Farley began to teach himself how to play the drums in his basement in Madison, N.J., and as a student at Fairfield University expanded his style up to jazz, hip hop and reggae from his childhood rock influences such as Pink Floyd, the Police and Led Zeppelin. Cristofaro met Farley in 1999 while they were students at the university. Phillips, a native New Yorker, met Cárdenas at a drum & bass party. Ochoa, who is originally from Caracas, Venezuela, moved to New York in 1995 while Oliver, who was born in Queens, is a classically trained musician.
“I was pretty clear in my head when we put the band together exactly want instruments I wanted,” said Cárdenas. “I wanted a string kind of on the lower range, either a cello or viola, and now we play with Tarrah, and I really like the way the vocals and strings blend together; it is like another vocalist to me.”
Si*Sé released its sophomore album “More Shine” in 2004 - a follow-up to its popular self-titled debut that sold nearly 100,000 copies worldwide. The founders of the Fuerte Group, Jerry Blair and Rich Isaacson, saw the band play live in New York and courted the group, which ultimately signed with the label and released “More Shine.” Both albums showcase tunes sang by Cárdenas in both Spanish and English, accenting her hauntingly beautiful tone that reflects a captivating balance between Middle Eastern and Latin vocal phrasings with traces of an operatic flare.