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LA La Land: How a Band Becomes an Orquestra

Magic in DTLA

I experienced magic Saturday night. I may also have witnessed history, but that will take a while.  First some background.

On August 17 of last year I followed up on an invitation to attend the debut CD release party of a band mystifyingly called “Sin Color” at Amoeba Records in Hollywood.  I was intrigued by the name “Without Color” – who would call their band “without color”? Plus, I always love to go to Amoeba. Which is how I found myself part of a really big crowd packing the aisles for a band I never heard of.

Sin Color consisted of Crisia Regalado, a barely 5 foot tall green-haired young Latina playing a miniature keyboard and singing, and a handsome young guitarist, David Aquino delivering astounding chops. That night there was also a drummer, a bass player and a backup singer, a configuration that varies with the event or recording.   I was mesmerized, not only at how tight the band was and how well the music was composed, but by one of the most beautiful, ethereal and best controlled voices I had ever heard. (I later learned that Crisia had studied opera from the age of 10 until high school, which accounted for the voice control. )

I became a fan/groupie/advocate immediately, but I also became intrigued by a combination of music forms I had not heard before:  traditional styles of music in pop soundscapes shaped with bossa nova, cumbia, disco and most importantly, operatic vocals.  While I know opera-trained singers like Militia Vox are not uncommon in metal bands, I had never seen one in pop, especially Latin-fusion pop, and it was stunning.  Sin Color was not just a duo with a great singer and a great multi-instrumentalist; it was a fearless innovator and cultural leader.

Fast forward to Saturday night at the Civic Center Studios in downtown LA, when Sin Color became Sin Colorquestra.  The usual stage at the narrow end of the soundstage had been removed  so instruments and chairs for a large group of musicians could be set up on the floor along the stage’s long wall.  Crisia and David assembled their band along with a 16-piece orchestra of young professional musicians, including a full philharmonic percussion section, brass, and a string section whose core was the musical Mata family, also professional mariachis.  Others in the string section were the amazing double-bassist Gina Maria, New England Conservatory of Music graduate cellist Mark Basset, and Shigeru Logan, whose viola you heard in the film A Star is Born.

The result of this  gathering of talent was a program of magical music like I have never heard before. After opening acts by the transgenderfluid  guitar virtuoso Matías Anaya, and the founder of the Latin Folk group Cuñao, Julio Montero,  Crisia took the stage. Unlike her usual traditional Mexican costumes, she was dressed demurely in a doe-colored satin top and long flowing black satin pants with her brilliant blue hair in a tight mass of curls.  She carried a black leather bound music book and was joined by a concert pianist on an 88. Her opening set was opera, the first time she had performed opera since she founded Sin Color 5 years ago. She stunned the room.

I have avoided opera my whole life, despite entreaties from friends and family. Crisia may have changed my tune. Sitting a few feet from her, hearing the clarity and drama of her voice moving up and down impossibly high scales, swooping,  piercing, sailing, I was practically hypnotized. If you had told me that the opening of a pop music act would be four operatic pieces I would have not believed you, but there they were and I loved it. She left the microphone to wild cheers and went upstairs to change.

Crisia returned in a formal black and white dress, accompanied by dancer Adriana Rafaela in a shimmering green gown. As Rafaela swirled and leapt to the pounding of the tom toms and the melodies of viola and flute, Crisia’s voice floated throughout the converted soundstage like an eagle. Crisia gave us several more songs, finished the set and went upstairs for a costume change.  The Mata family lined up at microphones, introduced by bassist Angelica Mata, a regular with Sin Color. Tonight she played a vihuela (small Mexican guitar) and was joined by her mother, father and little sister in a mariachi quartet that the audience wooping and cheering.

Crisia returned in red shirt and skirt, again accompanied by Adriana Rafaela, in a flaming red and white flowered flamenco dress. As a young flamenco guitarist strummed and Crisia filled with room with a plaintive bolero, Rafaela undulated and tapped across the studio floor. The piece ended with shouts of  “ole!” from a delighted audience. Crisia left for another costume change as the Mata family took the microphone for a traditional Mexican love song. Angelica and her father strummed vihuelas while her mother and sister played violins. Angelica sang and then turned the vocal center over to her mother and sister who sang solo and then joined Angelica, harmonizing on the final verses.

Crisia returned in a simple green flowered print dress and 6-inch gleaming silver platform boots. She picked up a vihuela and delivered a brace of love songs in Spanish with an emotional depth and majesty created by her voice, thundering symphonic percussion, jazz saxophone and stirring strings.  As the tom-toms pounded, the bongos fired away and the violins rippled,  Crisia’s voice filled the studio with love, passion and aguish. Her face flowed from ecstasy to agony while her body swayed as if she were in another dimension. If you closed your eyes you could be in her beautiful movie.

Sin Colorquestra was conceived over 2 years ago and an initial recording made but put aside because of the complexity of mixing and mastering properly. The Orquestra has performed three other times, including once in a house.  This is the first time the Orquestra was able to perform and record  with a full support team – 10 people – and film.  While Crisia and David have been learning how to assemble, manage, perform and record with an orchestra, Sin Color, the band made up of the duo and  favored accompanists, has built a following with live performances, their album Frutas and their singles, amassing over 300,000 streams on Spotify.

David tells me that the goal is to re-record another live performance and release a live DVD soon. When they do, the metamorphosis from a band to an orquestra will be complete. Each time they perform they do something no one else has done, that I know of and I think they may be making history.  In the meantime, I am enjoying witnessing the magic.

Patrick O’Heffernan

Patrick O’Heffernan, PhD., is a music journalist and radio broadcaster based in Los Angeles, California, with a global following. His two weekly radio programs, MusicFridayLive! and MusicaFusionLA are heard nationwide and in the UK. He focuses on two music specialties: emerging bands in all genres, and the growing LA-based ALM genre (American Latino Music) that combines rock and rap, blues and jazz and pop with music from Latin America like cumbia, banda, jarocho and mariachi. He also likes to watch his friend drag race.

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