A ‘giant in the mariachi world,’ Cano was instrumental in the study of Mexican music at UCLA.

Published: October 6, 2014
By: Donna Armstrong and Jessie Vallejo

Grammy award-winning mariachi leader and former director of the Music of Mexico Ensemble at UCLA, Nati Cano passed away on Friday, October 3, 2014. He was 81.

Cano played a major role in bringing mariachi music from local cafes and cantinas in Mexico to the dinner show and concert stages all over the world. His group Los Camperos de Nati Cano performed at the White House on several occasions; he was the recipient of an NEA National Heritage Fellowship; and Los Camperos was awarded a Grammy in 2008 for Best Regional Mexican Album for their CD “Amor, Dolor Y Lagrimas: Musica Ranchera Mariachi Los Camperos de Nati Cano” (Smithsonian Folkways, 2008).

Cano’s legacy is strongest however, in his efforts to pass the mariachi tradition to young people. He directed the Music of Mexico Ensemble at UCLA as a lecturer from 1989 until 1995, and as a visiting assistant professor from 1995 to 2000. He also created San Fernando’s Mariachi Master Apprentice Program (MMAP) with Sergio Alonso, a former UCLA ethnomusicology student, which resulted in the creation of the award-winning mariachi youth group, Mariachi Tesoro de San Fernando.

Mary Alfaro, ’09, current guitarist in Mariachi de Uclatlán and former member of MMAP states, "Several past and current members of Mariachi de Uclatlán participated in MMAP. Our participation in this group inspired many of us to pursue careers in music. Most importantly, Nati taught us to take pride in our music, our culture, and talents, values that helped us build confidence to pursue higher education. Nati Cano had a profound impact on the trajectory of his pupils' lives. We are incredibly sad to lose him but extremely blessed to have known this great man."

Nati Cano recently accompanied Jesus Guzman and Mariachi de Uclatlán on their trip to Havana, Cuba in June 2014, where they led a workshop with local mariachi groups and gave a public concert at the Casa de Las Americas. In preparation for the performance, Nati mentored the group, advising members on playing technique and style.

"He never missed a beat; whether in rehearsal or in a conversation, Nati was always ready with some musical advice, a life story, and of course, a joke," Jessie Vallejo, PhD ’14, violinist and current co-director, with Jesus Guzman, of Mariachi de Uclatlán remembers. "Nati's passion for not only mariachi music, but for living life to its fullest—always with a smile—was evident throughout our trip. It was truly a blessing to learn from such a giant."

Jesus Guzman, artistic director of Los Camperos and Cano’s assistant while he was at UCLA, who succeeded Cano as instructor of the UCLA Music of Mexico class from 2000 to the present, says, “…el mundo del mariachi ha perdido un gigante” (the mariachi world has lost a giant).

Steve Loza, PhD ’85, vice chair of the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music, Department of Ethnomusicology says, “Nati became director of our student mariachi back in 1989, and he put our mariachi program into high gear for many years, and in a very special way.  Nati Cano was a genius in innovative concepts, musical virtuosity, and entrepreneurship.  We will miss him dearly, but may God bless him forever."

Dan Sheehy, PhD
’79, director of the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage states, “Over his 50-plus years as a bandleader and charismatic teacher, Natividad “Nati” Cano took the humble musical tradition he inherited from his family to the most prestigious concert stages in the United States and Mexico.  Both a traditionalist and an innovator, his work with the renowned Mariachi Los Camperos de Nati Cano changed lives, changed minds, and recalibrated American public opinion of this signature musical expression rooted firmly in the history and pueblo of Mexico.”

Lauryn Salazar, PhD
’11, former member of Mariachi de Uclatlán and Assistant Professor of Musicology at Texas Tech University states, "For UCLA, bringing Nati Cano in to teach during the 1990s to resurrect the mariachi ensemble at UCLA, introduced his style of traditional mariachi to the university setting, and has therefore been instrumental in training a new generation of mariachi musicians across the U.S. For me personally, he opened a lot of doors for my research and musicianship, he was gracious with his time, and I am forever grateful for his mentorship."










To learn more about Nati Cano:

Musician Nati Cano dies at 81; leader of Mariachi los Camperos (Los Angeles Times)

¡Viva La Tradición! A Tribute to Nati Cano y Los Camperos (KCET Online)

Bandleader Nati Cano, leading figure in mariachi music, dies at 81 (Reuters)

Mariachi Pioneer Nati Cano Dies (Daily News)

Grammy Award for Mariachi Los Camperos de Nati Cano (Smithsonian Folkways Magazine)

“Amor, Dolor Y Lagrimas: Musica Ranchera” (Smithsonian Folkways 2008)

Natividad Cano (NEA National Heritage Fellowships)

The Recording Academy Statement Regarding Nati Cano

To read about the study of mariachi music at UCLA:

History of the Music of Mexico Ensemble at UCLA

Mariachi de Uclatlán 50th Anniversary Celebration: Interview with Organizers Lauryn Salazar and Jessie Vallejo