Natividad “Nati” Santiago joined Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán as a teenager in 1959 and soon developed speed, precision, tone, and an evenness or register previously unknown to the instrument. He remained with the group for almost 30 years.
In addition to his contributions to the evolution of the guitarrón technique, Nati created some of the most innovative bass lines ever played on the instruments, as countless recordings attest to. As leader of the Mariachi Vargas rhythm section, Nati’s influence extended far beyond the bass part, his musical ideas playing a considerably more important role in the ensemble than is commonly acknowledged.
Yet perhaps Nati’s greatest achievement was in the literally thousands of songs he recorded where the guitarrón doesn’t stand out, but rather stays in the background and allows the vocals and other instruments to shine. One of his greatest virtues was subtlety, and Nati always seemed to play exactly what the song or arrangement required: not a note more or not a note less.
Nati was living, breathing essence of mariachi music. To watch him play was exciting, both musically and visually. He projected rhythm and expression with his entire body, creating an imposing stage presence. Off stage, with friends, he would dance the Vihuela part to any son Jalisciense while playing the guitarrón and singing all the time keeping perfect rhythm.
Nati was a musician’s musician. He was a flawless sight-reader and master improviser; the most folkloric, yet the most modern; the most technical, yet the most soulful of guitarrón players. Classical or folkloric, sight reading or by ear, amplified or un-amplified, under a conductor’s baton or livening up a fiesta—Nati had no peers.
Natividad Santiago was a unique phenomenon in Mariachi music. Although he dies young, Nati’s contributions to his art have already earned him an immortal place in mariachi history. We welcome Natividad Santiago as the 8th member of the International Mariachi Hall of Fame.