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Q&A with Si*Se

A Delicate Balance

The first group signed to David Byrne’s Luaka Bop label, Brooklyn’s Si*Se watched a smooth beginning turn difficult as it navigated the music business and later bounced form label to label. Even the band’s sound reflects a delicate balance of genres — hip hop, dub, soul, and Latin — highlighting the different upbringings of vocalist Carol C and producer Cliff Cristofaro. The group performs for free at Hotel Vitale on September 8th, the last scheduled performance of the Sound Check series there. In a phone interview, SF Station spoke with Carol C and Cristofaro about where the group stands through all the transitions.

SF Station (SFS): Where does Si*Se the name come from?

Carol C (CaC): I was looking for a bilingual name that wasn’t too obvious and cheesy. I decided to make words out of it, and it also means “yes, I know.” Cliff and I both have CC as initials so I thought it would be fitting.

SFS: What is the emphasis or interest in the bilingual part?

CaC: My parents don’t speak English. My mom taught me how to sing. I felt like to fully share that with her, I wanted to write songs that she understood. Although her favorite songs are all in English! (laughs)

SFS: What is your background?

CaC: My parents are Dominican and Arabic. but I was born and raised in New York.

SFS: Cliff, growing up in New York, did you ever write graffiti?

Cliff Cristofaro (CC): No, but that’s interesting you ask because my older brother was a graffiti artist, and still is to this day. I remember my first time I went out and tried to write graffiti we got chased by security guards at the local mall we went to. These cats got caught and they ratted on me. I was like, “you know what, I’ll stick to music.”

SFS: I noticed Cliff you put together some art cards recently, what would an image of Si*Se look like?

CC: I feel an image of Si*Se would sort of look like a yin yang.

SFS: How did the two of you meet?

CC: We met through a mutual friend. I’d be playing some of the music I’d be working on at the time in my little area where I used to work. He would come by and be like “Yo this is cool,” and one day he told me that his girlfriend was working with Carol and that Carol was interested in doing her own project. We would send each other through this person, cassettes of music we were interested in and we were on a similar page.

SFS: If Martians were listening in on your music, what do hope it would be conveying?

CC: First not to attack us. Secondly, Carol and I have this beauty-and-the-beats complex. Sometimes there is a rough edge with a smooth sensibility, and I like that about our music.

SFS: What did or didn’t you learn from working with David Byrnes?
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CaC: I learned how to perform on big stages, which we had never done up until that time. I learned he had a special tea before he went on stage.

SFS: What is this secret tea?

CaC: It won’t be a secret if I tell you!

CC: As two young cats trying to come up in this music game he was so supportive. He would say, “This is how you guys are obviously doing things. I will give you some critiques, and some comments or whatever, but at the end of the day its your music and you do what you want with it.”

SFS: After you parted ways with David Byrnes record label, five years passed where you weren’t really in the spotlight. That must have been difficult to stay connected with music, and mainly, your fans.

CaC: Not a year goes by when we don’t get together for recording or just messing around. We play at least New York regularly, every three or six months. I was actually in the middle of deciding what we should do. We hadn’t completely left the label (Fuerte Records), or recorded our EP, and I remember hearing “The Chain,” by Fleetwood Mac come on my iTunes. It struck a chord with me that there is a chain that keeps us together as a band, and it’s definitely the music first.

SFS: Given this example of time and place with Fleetwood Mac fitting a context, is there a track you put on if you need an emotional boost?

CaC: For me it’s “If You Want Me To Stay” by Sly and Family Stone.

CC: Neil Diamond kind of brings me back to when my family moved me out from the Bronx to California and I remember riding with my mom in an old Camaro. I don’t tend to look to music to liven me up. I tend to make music to take me to another place.

SFS: Now being independent, is it a step forward or backward?

CC: When we look at our experiences in the past, it appears that everything happens for some sort of reason. I think when we first started we realized we put a lot of the brunt on the record label. As artists we were like okay we did our job, now you do your job. There was always that feeling with us, and you get caught up in it sometimes because I guess as an artist you always feel we need to be creative. If you really want stuff to happen at the end of the day, you do need to be involved.

Si*Se perform at Hotel Vitale on September 8th. Tickets are free with RSVP (http://soundcheckrsvp.eventbrite.com/), or $10 at the door. The event begins at 5pm.