Mariachi Los Camperos
The Los Angeles-based Mariachi Los Camperos is considered by many to be the finest mariachi ensemble in the world. Undoubtedly, it has played a central role in the United States in raising both the artistic standards and the public perceptions of mariachi music, which is now recognized by UNESCO as a masterpiece of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
Mariachi was one of the many regional musical styles to emerge from the Mexican countryside, in this case from the west-central state of Jalisco. These various styles developed as local adaptations that merged Spanish instruments, including the violin, guitar, and harp, with indigenous and African influences reflective of regional, mestizo cultures. In the 1930s, urban migration brought mariachi to the attention of Mexico City’s emerging media industry; first radio and then the movies helped to propel mariachi to international prominence.
NEA National Heritage Fellow Natividad “Nati” Cano, a native of Jalisco, founded Mariachi Los Camperos in 1961 in Los Angeles. In 1969, he opened the first dinner-theatre concept restaurant to feature mariachi, La Fonda de Los Camperos, on fashionable Wilshire Boulevard. Cano’s aim was to counter the perception of mariachi as mere “cantina music,” to have his beloved music recognized as art. Los Camperos’ success at La Fonda—along with their breakthrough recordings with Linda Ronstadt and their own Grammy® Award-winning work—is largely credited with bringing mariachi to national attention and millions of new listeners.
Nati Cano passed away in 2014 at the age of 81, but he has left Mariachi Los Camperos in good hands, having passed the baton of leadership to the group’s longtime musical director, Jesus “Chuy” Guzman. Guzman, who plays violin and trumpet, was Cano’s right-hand man for nearly three decades. Under Guzman’s direction, Los Camperos released a 2016 Grammy®-nominated musical tribute to Nati called Tradición, Arte, y Pasión. They also reopened the celebrated La Fonda in 2016, nearly a decade after its unfortunate closure.
One of Cano’s most important legacies is Mariachi Los Camperos’ continuing efforts to pass the mariachi tradition to a new generation of mariachi musicians across the United States. Along with Guzman, other key members of Mariachi Los Camperos, including guitarrón player Juan Jimenez, harpist Sergio Alonso, and Raul Cuellar (violin and first voice), have assumed the mantle of master teachers through programs like the Mariachi Master Apprentice Program in San Fernando. Most of all, their virtuosic, inspiring performances create new mariachi fans everywhere they go.