No festival for old men

FRESNO -- The performance by the prestigious mariachi Los Camperos de Natividad 'Nati' Cano owned the afternoon at the Festival ¡Viva el Mariachi! last Sunday, although not exactly because of what they had prepared.

As they prepared themselves to perform the next piece in the middle of a storm of applause, Cano was surprised to see a little boy dressed as a charro with a sign that asked to allow him to sing. Cano was even more baffled when the child was put up on the stage by his father and left him there.

Cano refused to allow the boy to interrupt the program and asked to have him taken off the stage, but when they did, the audience asked for the boy's return to the stage and it was then when Ricardito Paz sang to the top of his infant lungs 'La de la Mochila Azul' (The One With The Blue Backpack). The applause was soon heard and with that it was proven once again that the public is always in charge.

"It was one of my favorite moments of the festival," said Guadalupe Chávez, who at the end asked Ricardito for his autograph.

"But also when Mercedes Castro and Yolanda Del Río came on stage," added Chávez, who had not attended the festival in seven years.

Paz, on the other hand, made his debut before a massive crowd at the Selland Arena with about 6,000 people in attendance.

The little boy who is 8-years-old, was born in Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco but lives in San José with his parents, said that he felt a little bit of "anger' when they took him off the stage, but he became "happy" when the mariachi started to play.

"I was very excited when they clapped for me at the end of the song," said the little boy.

Paz came with his parents, Ricardo and Zoila, from San José with the objective of enjoying the festival and try to sing before a massive audience as the one at the ¡Viva el Mariachi! Festival.

The program included the performance of Del Río, Castro, and Mariachi Imperial de Michoacán, México; Los Arrieros from El Paso, Texas; and a presentation from the folkloric dance group Los Paisanos from Selma High School.

A lifetime in the mariachi

Even though at his 80 years of age he feels completely fulfilled by his great achievements and multiple triumphs that he has received along his years as a mariachi and founder of Los Camperos, Mr. Natividad Nati Cano doesn't deny that the future of the music that he holds in his heart since he was a boy is in danger.

"(Mariachi) is going backwards, and I don't see it ascending. The public is responsible because we promote a song in a tropical type, or cumbia, and it doesn't have anything to do with the flavor of the mariachi," said Cano, who has worked with Linda Ronstant and Luis Miguel, among others.

For example, he quoted the song 'El Mariachi Loco' (The Crazy Mariachi), that people often request.

And he makes a comparison with what happens at Mexican restaurants in the U.S. "Are we the ones to blame because chimichangas are famous? Don't tell me that is Mexican food."

"We are struggling a bit, to survive we have to dance and...if we don't dance, it is no longer a good mariachi," said Cano at the end of his performance at the festival.

It is for that reason that Cano is proud that Los Camperos is one of the few that play almost exclusively at theatres and venues not destined commonly for mariachis, because that way they can present music that is more pure.

It is not in vain that Los Camperos is considered "national treasure" of the United States.

When he was young, Cano was inspired by the work of the Mariachi Vargas de Tecatitlán, Pedro Infante and Jorge Negrete among others.

"I learned from all of them and the mariachi musicians that played for the love of it," he says.

For Cano, Infante and Negrete were two singers that "raised the ranchero environment, Mexican culture (but) we lost it already, there is no more.

"We have to understand that we have to save our traditions. I get inspired with Radio Bilingüe, because they don't depend on the sponsorships of cigarette or liquor companies and they have survived."

He also includes Lucha Reyes as one of the great female precursor of the ranchero song, "after her more came out."

Los Camperos has been the only mariachi nominated for a Grammy, an award they couldn't win in 2006 because they competed against Luis Miguel's gigantic popularity.

Cano and his mariachi recently released their album 'Amor, Dolor y Lágrimas.' (Love, Pain and Tears).