By Gil Sperry
It seems appropriate that since, this year, the The 28th Annual Tucson (AZ) International Mariachi Conference is celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Los Camperos de Nati Cano, that we take an up-close-and-personal look at the contributions that the founder of this universally acclaimed ‘giant of the mariachi genre’ has made to further the education of Hispanic youth.
As is often the case, a person’s own positive experiences with music as a child nurture a firm belief, when that person reaches adulthood, in the value of a musical education for the next generation of youngsters. Natividad “Nati” Cano was born in 1933 to a family of day laborers, who were also mariachi, in the Mexican state of Jalisco. At the age of seven he began studying the vihuela with his father. Two years later, he was accepted into the prestigious Academia de Musica in Guadalajara where he studied violin. The rest of his story, including his ascendancy to the position of founder/musical director of America’s most decorated and multiple Grammy-award winning mariachi ensemble, has been chronicled in many other places; while it is both inspirational and astounding, our focus will be solely on his contributions in the field of education.
In 1979, Nati was instrumental in helping to create the mariachi ‘festival’ movement that we are celebrating in Tucson this week. There are at least a dozen others across the world (including Mexico’s Encuentro de Mariachi y Charreria) that have since emulated this one. Señor Cano’s insistence that the student workshop vector become an integral part of every one of these events was a critical motivator in the positive effects that we get to see…and listen to…each year. But this hardly scratches the surface of his educational contributions and innovations.
Sergio “Checo” Alonso, Los Camperos’ acknowledged master of the arpa jaliscience and a professional educator himself, tells us that “…our tours often include children’s shows where local school kids attend free one-hour concerts. In these sessions, Nati covers different aspects of mariachi, including song types, instruments, and history. He also initiated the Ethnomusicology 91 K course, “The Music of Mexico,” which he taught as an Adjunct Faculty Member at UCLA as far back as 1991. This is a class that our group’s current musical director, Jesus “Chuy” Guzman, still teaches to this day.”
In San Fernando, CA where “Checo” teaches, Nati was one of the inspirations at the head of…and driving forces behind…the city’s world-renowned Mariachi Master Apprentice Program (MMAP). Virginia Diediker, the director of the famed Ballet Folklorico Ollin which performed in the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympic Games, wrote that “…this program unites world-class mariachi masters with community youth who are ready to advance their musical skills. Weekly sessions provide professional instrumental technique development, vocal coaching, music theory education, and performance etiquette, while enhancing repertoire that emphasizes all of the traditional and popular mariachi forms…specific training focuses on mariachi’s traditional core of musical instruments. The program is designed to transcend the basics, shaping ambitious students that have the potential to become masters in their own right.”
Nati Cano, in the finest tradition of mentors who excel in every field of endeavor, is giving back, in the purest sense of the word, to the next generation. We are so honored, on this occasion of his Golden Anniversary, to be able to not only listen to the great music he has created but to know the true greatness of the person himself.
For more information about Gil Sperry, visit Mariachi for Gringos.
To find mariachi groups visit the online mariachi directory Serenata Mariachi.