Tribute to Nati Cano

A few weeks ago, a man who did so much to advance the art of Mariachi, passed away. I’m talking about the great Nati Cano, an incredible musician, teacher, and leader of the incomparable Mariachi Los Camperos de Nati Cano. I had the privilege meeting with Nati and Juan Morales, a member of Los Camperos and a phenomenal musician himself, back in 2004.
They wanted me to compose a piece for mariachi and symphony orchestra. The result was “Concierto Para Mariachi: El Son de San Joaquin” an 8 1/2 minute musical romp of mariachi, banda (kind of like German brass oomph music), inspirations from the Central Valley and my own influence of composing for film. One young girl at the premier said it sounded like Mariachi meets Harry Potter.

Juan, who had much success in LA as a working musician, had moved to California’s Central Valley - the San Joaquin Valley - to start a mariachi program particularly aimed at migrant students. These are the kids of migrant farmworkers who usually have to move to different parts of the state or country when their parents need to get up and follow the work. Juan wanted me to compose the piece, but I had to get approval from the big guy, Nati, before we could proceed. After grilling me a little bit on my musical credentials, he did approve it, and the piece moved forward.

I sat in on a few of Juan’s classes and was amazed at the solid musicianship these kids were learning. Counterpoint, ear-training, harmony, etc. I was also amazed at the students skills as musicians. I was especially flabbergasted by then 12 year old Jasmin Morales, Juan’s daughter, whose playing of the violin was equivalent to many of the pro’s I know.

Being from the San Joaquin Valley myself, I allowed myself to be re-inspired by the valley - The Big Valley - the agriculture, the smells, the heat, the grapes hanging from the vines, the smell of alfalfa and cotton exfoliating, the cows, the stacks of hay in the summer heat. My love of the majestic view of the valley when you travel north on the 5 freeway down the grapevine. I wanted to capture the magic of this area, this place where things grow. The lingering sounds of mariachis playing out of the backyards of someone having a wedding, quinceñeara or an early morning serenade. The sounds of Banda Sinaloense (a type of German influenced oompah brass band) blasting out of some farmworkers truck as he drives to work in the morning.

All of this went into the piece. I had to come up with a model and eventually settled on a concerto grosso, a baroque form of music where the musical themes and material are passed between a small group of soloists (usually virtuosic) and a full orchestra. I also made the structure something of a sonata form, where a theme is first introduced in an exposition, broken down in the development, and brought back in the final recapitulation. I just let myself go and had a lot of fun with it. Way back in the day, I used to be in a mariachi group and became their primary arranger. I learned a thing or two about how the musical elements come together. How the bass lines work with the violins and the guitars to make that distinctive mariachi sound. I poured all of that knowledge into this piece. The result is “Concierto Para Mariachi: El Son de San Joaquin”.

This is a midi-synthesized version of the piece, so excuse the rather fake sound of the instruments. In honor of Nati Cano’s passing, I present to you “Concierto Para Mariachi: El Son de San Joaquin”. I hope you enjoy it!

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