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Mariachis go for Guinness record, pay tribute to Los Camperos de Nati Cano

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Tucson International Mariachi Conference

Mariachis go for Guinness record, pay tribute to Los Camperos de Nati Cano

Others appearing: Lila Downs, Mariachi Los Arrieros, Mariachi Cobre, Fiesta Garibaldi students

  • Mariachi Cobre performs at Disney's Epcot Center in 2004.
    Daniel BuckleyMariachi Cobre performs at Disney's Epcot Center in 2004.
  • Nati Cano waits to take the stage of the TCC Arena at the 2004 Espectacular concert.
    Daniel BuckleyNati Cano waits to take the stage of the TCC Arena at the 2004 Espectacular concert.

Half a century is a significant milestone any way you look at it.

For 50 years, Nati Cano has been at the helm of one of America's foremost mariachis, the Grammy-winning Los Camperos de Nati Cano. And as the Tucson International Mariachi Conference celebrates its 28th year, it pays special tribute to Cano, whose group has performed at TIMC at all but the first conference.

Joining Los Camperos on the Espectacular Concert bill Friday night are singer Lila Downs, El Paso's Mariachi Los Arrieros and Tucson's own contribution to the world-class mariachi set, Mariachi Cobre.

When Cobre founders Randy and Steve Carrillo, Mack Ruiz and Roberto Martinez were boys, they played in America's first youth mariachi – Tucsons Los Changuitos Feos. Among their early teachers and inspirations were Nati Cano and his group, who later became good friends according to Randy Carrillo.

Since the 1990s Nati Cano and Los Camperos have been instructors at TIMC, working particularly with the masters students to help them polish their showmanship. Cano created a showcase for emerging talent that turned the spotlight on such local favorites as Olga Flores, Blanca Bustamante and Marisa Ronstadt.

But the group is probably best known as the backing band of choice for Linda Ronstadt on her "Canciones de Mi Padre" and "Mas Canciones" ranchera tours.

Ronstadt says that Cano "is important because more than any of the other mariachi leaders he has tried to preserve tradition while still encouraging innovation."

Even as TIMC prepares to honor him with the entire second half of the Espectacular concert, Cano is again showing his generosity and willingness to step out of the box. It was at his suggestion that Mexican songstress Lila Downs will be the featured vocalist. And again at his request that a longtime veteran of the conference workshops – blind Phoenix-based harpist Ernie Ferra, who performs with Los Cuatro Vientos – will be a featured guest with Los Camperos, this time performing on accordion.

Born in 1933 in Ahuisculco, Jalisco, Mexico, outside of Guadalajara, Nati Cano started playing the vihuela (the keel-backed rhythm instrument of the mariachi) at the age of 6. Two years later he was part of the mariachi of his father and grandfather. He studied violin for six years at the Academia de Música in Guadalajara before moving to Mexicali in 1950 to join Mariachi Chapala.

After moving to Los Angeles, he joined the Million Dollar Theatre's Mariachi Águila, which became his group in 1961, and was renamed Los Camperos de Nati Cano.

In 1989, Cano received America's highest honor in the traditional arts – the National Heritage Fellowship – from the National Endowment for the Arts.

The Nati Cano 50th anniversary celebration is a big chunk of what this year's Espectacular concert is centered around. But as Cano himself would likely chime in, what the conference is really about is the next generation. From Wednesday to Friday, young mariachi and folklórico dance students from Tucson and around the country take over virtually every square inch of the Tucson Convention Center for workshops with master mariachi and folklórico dance professionals.

Fiesta Garibaldi

Those workshop participants get a chance to show their stuff at Thursday's showcase, and at Reid Park on Saturday at the Fiesta Garibaldi (see sidebar). Having covered the conference for over two decades, for me the student showcase is always the highlight. It is amazing to see musicianship and dance prowess so far beyond the years of these young performers. Poised, confident and proud, they deliver with the solid conviction of seasoned pros.

This year they'll be going for the gold, trying to shatter the Guinness World Record for the most mariachis simultaneously performing, with 1,000 performers at 6 p.m. Thursday at the TCC Arena.

More than a celebration of Mexican heritage, TIMC is also a fundraiser for Tucson's La Frontera mental health center's programs for local youth. It's a worthy cause with a world-class show attached. Even with Tucson's endless stream of great cultural offerings, you'll be hard pressed to find anything that can match this week's mariachi and folklórico offerings.

Catch all you can.

If you go

  • Tucson Convention Center tickets available through the TCC box office and Ticketmaster
  • Participant Showcase, featuring top student mariachis and folklórico dancers, Thursday, 6 p.m. Tickets $10
  • Espectacular Concert with Lila Downs, Mariachi Cobre, Los Arrieros and celebrating 50 years of Los Camperos de Nati Cano, Friday, 7:30 p.m. Tickets $44-$88
  • Mariachi Mass, Saturday, 9 a.m., St. Augustine Cathedral, 192 South Stone Ave., free
  • Fiesta Garibaldi, Saturday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. at the DeMeester Outdoor Performance Center, Reid Park, Tickets $5, 12 and under free

On the Web

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