In their decades-long history of producing some of the best mariachi music in the world, Mariachi Los Camperos has outdone themselves with the new album, De Ayer Para Siempre (from Yesterday to Forever), their first studio album under the leadership of Jesús “Chuy” Guzmán. I say this after having spent the weekend in Guadalajara at the International Mariachi Festival 2019 which featured mariachis from around the world and the estrellas – the stars – of mariachi, giving sold-out audiences electrifying performances. Los Camperos was one of those stars and they were definitely electrifying.
Despite being a studio recording, De Ayer Para Siempre has the same electricity as Mariachi Los Camperos’ live performances. This is a big album – 14 songs – and it is full of big, joyful music that transports you to the stage of the historic Teatro Degollado in Guadalajara and fills your ears and bones with the heartbeat of Mexico. The album’s songs range from the soaring violins and driving rhythms of the sexy “El Pasajero”, to the deep crooning harmony of boleros like “María Grever,” and “Popurr Bolero”, to a modern take on “Mexicali Rose” and the funny, fast-paced “Pajero Cu”.
I especially loved “Vivir sin tu”, a song that sails on Guzmán’s glowing voice. There are many wonderful crooners and tenors in the mariachi world — I saw and heard many in Guadalajara this week — but Guzmán stands out from the crowd both in this album and live. Not only is his voice impeccably beautiful, his skill at music arrangement both accentuates his vocal talent and the musical skill of the band. He is loftily inspiring and down-to-earth jubilant at the same time.
That skill has taken a lifetime to build. Guzmán saw his first mariachi band on television in Ensenada at the age of six. Among the bands that captured his imagination was Mariachi Los Camperos, led by maverick visionary and world-renowned music teacher Natividad “Nati” Cano. Young Chuy was hooked; he spent every evening after school playing old family records and fingering out the notes to teach himself the guitarrón, the vihuela, and the violin (which would later become his instrument of choice). By age nine, Chuy had put together his own band with two of his brothers and a few neighborhood friends. He recalls turning to his guitarrón player after practice one day and announcing, “You know, someday I will be a member of Mariachi Los Camperos.”
Almost fifty years later he not only has been a member of the Mariachi Los Comperos for a quarter century, he is leading it. Guzmán was anointed by a dying Nati Cano in 2014 as its next bandleader as well as its golden voice. He continues Cano’s mission of bringing the expression and aesthetic of the Mexican working classes to new audiences, and to challenge the racism and classism in both Mexico and the US that sees mariachi as lower class music.
It’s not lower class by any stretch. As was evident at the Main Plaza and on the stage in the Teatro Dellagado in Guadalajara this weekend, mariachi is a central force in the national identity of Mexico. It embodies mestizaje: the racial and cultural mixing of Spanish and Indigenous cultures, making mariachi the heartbeat of Mexico. Guzmán’s music and De Ayer Para Siempre are in the blood pumping through Mexico’s corazón – its heart.
De Ayer Para Siempre is Mariachi Los Comperos’ tenth studio album and it follows multiple Grammy Awards and nominations as well as collaborations with musicians such as Linda Rondstadt and performances at venues like Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center. Every one of the fourteen songs on De Ayer Para Siempre is an individual gem. They are all different forms of mariachi but they all share Guzmán’s exuberance, even the boleros and heartbreaking canción rancheras. De Ayer Para Siempre is a brilliant introduction to the wide, joyful world of mariachi for those listeners who have only heard black and silver-clad trios in restaurants, and it is a must-have for the collections of mariachi aficionados.
A flourish of the sombrero to Chuy Guzmán for a producing a world-class recording and for continuing the tradition not only of Natividad Cano, but of the heartbeat of Mexican music.
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