Si*Se: Chameleons Of Sound

If you mixed Sade’s sweet voice with a little of Portishead’s edginess and a Latino swing, you still wouldn’t have enough genres to describe Si*Se’s sound. Formed by DJ Carol C. and U.F.L.O.W. (Cliff Cristofaro), the six-piece group has evoked just about every type of music and instrumentation into their sophomore effort, More Shine, which […]

If you mixed Sade’s sweet voice with a little of Portishead’s edginess and a Latino swing, you still wouldn’t have enough genres to describe Si*Se’s sound. Formed by DJ Carol C. and U.F.L.O.W. (Cliff Cristofaro), the six-piece group has evoked just about every type of music and instrumentation into their sophomore effort, More Shine, which was recently released on Fuerte Records.

With a Middle Eastern and Dominican Republic ancestry, Carol C. came up in New York City as a classically trained vocalist and songwriter, and later added deejaying to her resume. Cliff, an Italian-American, studied Hip Hop and European instrumentation in Flatbush, Brooklyn. The two met in 2000, and after combining their distinct backgrounds, came up with a five-song demo in just three months.

They were billed as “World music” and signed to Luaka Bop Records, which is owned by Talking Head’s vocalist David Byrne. Their self-titled debut sold over 10,000 copies and spawned several tours, with the group opening for Norah Jones, Kraftwerk, James Brown and David Byrne. Their music was also featured on HBO’s Six Feet Under.

Si*Se is ready to tickle the eardrums of those who love the surprise of Carol’s soothing alto over Cliff’s eclectic production. Alternatives had a word with the duo to find out the method behind the New York chill. Alternatives: What does the name of your group mean?

Cliff: It kind of has a couple different meanings. Originally when the group was started, Carol was trying to figure out a name for the group that encompassed her. And in that process it kind of included myself as well just by the way she incorporated the initials of her name. Being that we were trying to form a bilingual collaboration, we wanted to try to use that in the name of the project we were working on. Being that at first it was only her and myself, she used her initials as the pretense of the name. My initials are [also] “C” and “C”. It’s interesting because I’m considered the “Si” the way it’s pronounced in English, and she’s the “Se” the way it’s pronounced in Spanish. The name is also a term in Spanish, meaning ‘yes, I know’. So we kind of use that as well to say, yes we know stuff that other people don’t.

AHHA: What kind of stuff do you know that other people don’t?

Cliff: I don’t know. In a way, we’re always trying to incorporate different ways of doing things. Leaving out the norm, trying to take our own different influences and fuse them with something that we both feel comfortable with.

AHHA: With the members of your group having such diverse backgrounds, how do you bring all those cultures together in your music?

Carol: It happens very organically in our jam sessions. We bounce ideas off of each other, and everyone has a different taste in music. We all have one thing in common; that we all grew up in New York. So, I may be doing something kind of jazzy, and our viola player might want a little funk bass line, and the percussionist might want to put a little Brazilian rhythm here. It just all comes together.

Cliff: We just try to incorporate things that may not have been so blatant to each one of us. Sometimes it doesn’t work and we keep evaluating, and sometimes it works right off the bat.

AHHA: Do you feel your sound is representative of New York in some kind of way?

Carol: Well, I will say that New York is the most multicultural city in the world, and I think you do hear a lot of music from different cultures. Some people say they hear Middle Eastern, some people say they hear Reggae. I think it’s because you can walk down the street and one car will be bumpin’ Hip-Hop…

Cliff: And then you’ll hear some traditional Indian music coming out of a restaurant…

Carol: You walk through a building and your neighbor is bumpin’ South African music. Everyone’s here and every culture comes together in the city, and I think because we grew up listening to all of these different styles of music and music from all over the world, we’re not aware of how unsympathetic we are to people who didn’t grow up with that. It’s natural.

AHHA: With so many different classifications of music now, how do you classify your music?

Cliff: Organic sex…organic electro-sex.

Carol: [laughing] I call it something different every week. Electronic soul is one of my favorite ones. What would you say, Cliff?

Cliff: It is hard to classify. When we first started, the record label we were affiliated with was known for this open and kind of eclectic type of World music. But when you think of the term World music I kind of think of something very traditional sounding from Turkey or Africa. But in reality, some of it was kind of catchy as well. So we were kind of pigeonholed into this World market. We feel our music is worldly, but not considered traditional World music category that you find in record stores. The fact that we do bilingual music, the group was called Alternative Latin Rock music, and that wasn’t us either. So through our career as musicians, it’s kind of been a fusion. I don’t know if there’s a direct area in record stores or a category that is fusion of all types of music and makes its own sound.

AHHA: Does that make it harder or easier for people to grab on to what you’re doing?

Cliff: If I’m going to go out and buy a Hip-Hop album, I know in my mind that I’m going to get 15 or 20 tracks that are going to be in that same genre. Only recently have you found artists that do different types of stuff. I tend to think our music is like…there’s something for everybody. Even if some of the tracks you don’t totally connect with, because there are so many varying styles. There might be something there that attracts the Hip-Hop head with the beat, or the Jazz listener who is just into that soothing melody of Carol’s vocals or the classical listener.

Carol: At times it can work against us, and at times it works for us. From a marketing point of view, it’s difficult because there’s not one word you can use to describe us. So we can confuse people who may not get it because it’s too all over the place for them.

Cliff: That’s one more thing about us; it’s a little mysterious. We’re not worried about being one thing. It’s for others to find out. We hope we get the exposure just by being who we are.

AHHA: Your fans really appreciate your live show. How important is the live element of your music?

Cliff: It takes on a whole new energy. Ever since we did the first show we played when we were unseasoned, we realized that there was difference from a solely electronic album, with the original tracks. We realized from the beginning how we would perform this. People started asking us did we have band, so we grabbed our friends and we tried something different and from the first show you can kind of see a lot of our original music was slow paced. We could see the audience bobbing their heads back and forth. Some of the songs we reevaluated and played them up-tempo and we seen people start to feed off the music in the live atmosphere. For us that was like, ‘This is crazy’. It became a real open arena for expression. Everyone in the group is eclectic in their own way. There is a new life that’s brought to it when it’s in a live atmosphere, as opposed to it being rather structured and having the time to do it in the studio and play the parts again. Sometimes you lose a little something – but we’ve always been open to that. We want to have two sides. The side you can listen to and relax at home and chill or you can come to the live show and get a whole new outlook on it.

AHHA: Carol I hear a lot of people comparing your voice and style of singing to Sade. How do you feel about that?

Carol: Wow…I absolutely love Sade, and I never heard that before the album came out. I’m extremely flattered that we remind anyone of an artist such as Sade. I’m not sure if it’s the music or what it is that reminds them of her. I’m not complaining about it at all.

AHHA: Tell me about the album. What can your fans expect?

Carol: This album, it shows a lot of growth as a group, as individuals, in production. We had the facilities to explore and expand certain things, it sounds fuller to me. The first album has a big drum n’ bass influence, because that was what was in at the time, so we were kind of messing around with that. I would say this one has more of a Funk, House kind of feel to a lot of the faster songs.

Cliff; It’s a little bit of Hip-Hop, it’s a little bit of Rock and Roll, a little Electro-Soul [laughing]. It’s us trying to take our ideas to the next level and explore new possibilities with the music and the sounds we massage and the songs that we make. It comes natural to us to make one track that might span multi-genres, as well as cultures. There’s something hidden in every track, just like a box of Captain Crunch.