Album of the Day: Mariachi Los Camperos, “De Ayer Para Siempre”

Formed in 1961 by the classically trained Natividad “Nati” Cano, Mariachi Los Camperos have performed everywhere from Vegas to Carnegie Hall, were the longtime house band of a restaurant owned by Cano, and accompanied Linda Ronstadt on both of her Spanish-language albums.

Jesús “Chuy” Guzman, who has taught mariachi at UCLA for just over two decades, leads the 13-piece mariachi’s latest iteration and his band is a powerhouse. Exuberant gritos—spontaneous high-pitched cries of enthusiasm—punctuate the rancheras, boleros, and canciones heard on De Ayer Para Siempre (From Yesterday to Always). An urban expression of traditional working-class culture, mariachi is meant to be a little rough around the edges, at least emotionally. But there’s nothing haphazard about the full-throated duo and chorus that belts out “El Pasajero” (The Passerby), a rhythmically inventive son jalisciense with lyrics extolling the joy of adultery and other received ideas.

Mariachi celebrates racial and cultural mixing. “Pájaro cú” (Coo Bird), for example, elaborates upon Veracruz’s rich harp tradition with swinging horns and strings. Three medleys, meanwhile, focus on tightly harmonized boleros and the songwriting of María Grever, who was Mexico’s first famous female songwriter, and Rubén Fuentes Gassón, who defined 20th-century mariachi. And “Mexicali Rose / South of the Border” affirm both the inevitability and benefits of cultural immigration. Mariachi is deservedly Mexico’s signature sound, and De Ayer Para Siempre has the range of styles, personalities, geographical specificities, and hard-blowing, emotionally drenched performances to prove it.

-Richard Gehr

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