Mariachi Los Camperos
About Mariachi Los Camperos
Founded by Nati Cano in 1961, the Grammy-winning Mariachi Los Camperos (aka Los Camperos de Nati Cano) is one of North America's most revered mariachi bands. Based in Los Angeles, the group has made numerous recordings and toured Mexico and the U.S. dozens of times. Mariachi Los Camperos are an emblem of mariachi performance. Before his death in 2014, Cano, the group's musical director and arranger, placed great attention on innovating early regional songs with complex rhythm patterns and harmonies while preserving the integrity of traditional music and the essential mariachi sound, both historic and modern. In addition to their own recordings, they've worked in the studio with top Mexican and Latin American musicians, and recorded with American pop and rock musicians including Linda Ronstadt, Ry Cooder, Willy Deville, and Los Lobos. Among their most notable recordings are ¡Viva el Mariachi! (2002) and Llegaron Los Camperos (2005); both were released by Smithsonian Folkways and are excellent examples of Cano's negotiation between preservation and innovation of the mariachi tradition.
Cano was born into a family of day laborers and musicians in the town of Ahuisculco, in Jalisco, Mexico, in 1933, in the region where mariachi was born. At age six he was taught to play the Mexican vihuela (a five-string guitar from the 19th century often used in traditional mariachi). Two years later, he began studying at the Academia de Musica in Guadalajara, where he remained until 1945. Cano traveled to the city of Mexicali in 1950 and joined the Mariachi Chapala. The youngest member of the band by a decade, he quickly became its arranger. He immigrated to Los Angeles, California in 1960, and joined Mariachi Águila; they had a long-standing gig at the prestigious Million Dollar Theater in the heart of L.A. Shortly thereafter, bandleader Jose Frias was killed in a traffic accident. Cano became the group's leader and renamed it Mariachi los Camperos. As director, he imposed a change in attire from the simple, black traje de charro to a more elegant and refined white jacket and later the uniform of the Mexican vaqueros (cowboys). Mariachi Los Camperos quickly gained recognition in the L.A, community, then throughout the U.S. and Northern Mexico. The group cut their first album, Puro Mariachi, for the independent Indigo Records in 1961. While the record made it into stores in Southern California and northern Mexico, the set was primarily recorded to sell at concerts. In 1965, they cut North of the Border for RCA's Carino imprint; it was distributed all over North America. Three years later, El Super Mariachi, Los Camperos appeared from Latin International. Also in 1968, Cano opened La Fonda de Los Camperos, a restaurant on Wilshire Boulevard in L.A. that featured live performances of Mariachi Los Camperos several nights a week, as well as other Mexican regional musicians.
As a band, Mariachi Los Camperos, using Cano's charts, placed great emphasis on innovating from early regional songs. They added complex rhythm patterns and harmonies. But even as reinvention was part and parcel of their sound, they sought to preserve the integrity of traditional music. Cano realized early that mariachi music was able to reach people of all cultures, and with the growth of the Latino population in the U.S., the popularity of live mariachi performance increased exponentially.
Busy playing a weekly gig and touring when they could, they didn't record again for eight years. 1973's Valses de Amor, on La Fonda Records, appeared to universally positive reviews. Mariachi Los Camperos were playing seven nights a week for months on end. Their meld of classic mariachi, slow romantic boleros, quick rhythms of the muscular son jalisiense, and intricate huapango registered with crowds at county fairs, quinciñearas, weddings, street parties, and theaters alike. While it would be two decades before they cut another album (1987), they were asked by Linda Ronstadt -- long familiar with their sound -- to accompany her on her award-winning best-seller Canciones de Mi Padre. In 1989, Cano received the National Heritage Fellowship of the National Endowment for the Arts, the U.S. government's highest honor in traditional arts, in recognition of his life's work. In 1991, the band reprised their role on Ronstadt's follow-up, Mas Canciones. In 1992, they supported Willy DeVille for a mariachi version of Billy Roberts' "Hey Joe" and appeared in its video. It was the first single from DeVille's seminal late-career album, Backstreets of Desire.
Mariachi Los Camperos signed to Polydor for 1993's Canciones de Siempre. The record's positive reception brought them greater fame as they toured the American Southwest and across Mexico.
In 1996, they signed to Delfin for two albums: that year's Sounds of Mariachi and the holiday set, Fiesta Navidad, in 1997. As the group's public appearances -- locally, nationally, and internationally -- took up more and more of their time, they would not get to record again until 2002, when they issued Viva el Mariachi for the very receptive and prestigious Smithsonian Folkways label. Universally acclaimed, the band expanded their touring to Canada in addition to the U.S. and Mexico. They were also featured on Raíces Latinas: Smithsonian Folkways Latino Roots Collection that year. In late 2004, Mariachi Los Camperos released Llegaron Los Camperos. The album landed on the Mexican Regional charts. In 2005, they shared a Best Musical Album for Children Grammy for Cellabration: A Tribute to Ella Jenkins. At the 2006 Grammys, Mariachis Los Camperos took home the award for Best Mexican/Mexican American Album for Llegaron Los Camperos. Two years later, after the internationally celebrated Amor, Dolor y Lagrimas: Música Ranchera, they took home another Grammy for best Regional Mexican Album. That same year they appeared on "Drive Like I Never Been Hurt," the opening track and first single from Ry Cooder's celebrated 2008 album I, Flathead. (The guitarist had been a fan since the '60s.)
In October of 2014, Cano died from natural causes. He was 81. The group continued with musical director Jesus "Chuy" Guzman as their leader.
In 2015, as Mariachi Los Camperos de Nati Cano, they issued the Grammy-nominated Tradicion, Arte y Pasion.
They lost to Los Tigres del Norte's Realidades. While re-establishing themselves within the music industry under Guzman's leadership, they continued touring with no break as a tribute to Cano. The band entered the studio again in 2019 and released De Ayer Para Siempre, their fifth outing for Smithsonian Folkways. Charting in both the U.S. and Mexico, the album took home the 2020 Grammy for Best Regional Mexican Album (including Tejano). ~ Thom Jurek