Natividad Cano was born in 1933 in the tiny village of Ahuisculco, Jalisco, about 30 miles west of Guadalajara. The son and grandson of mariachi musicians, he began playing the vihuela at age 6. By age 8, he had switched to violin and his family had moved to Guadalajara, where young
Nati began formal music lessons. At age 18, Nati joined the popular Mariachi Chapala, accompanying them to Mexicali, Baja California, where he served as lead violinist and musical director from approximately 1950 to 1960. During this period Mariachi Chapala made recordings, preformed on live radio shows, and accompanied major artists on a regular basis. In 1957, they did a stint as the house mariachi at Granada lounge in Los Angeles, and in 1959, the group relocated permanently to southern California.
Dissatisfied with what he considered to be Mariachi Chapala’s lack of ambition and vision, Cano left that group in 1961 to join the house band at the Million Dollar Theater in Los Angeles, an ensemble led by Jose Frias. Shortly thereafter, Frias died in an automobile accident and Cano took over the group’s leadership, changing its name to Mariachi Los Camperos.
Nati Cano soon made personal changes to Los Camperos and began rehearsing the group incessantly, imposing standards of dress and discipline seldom seen in the mariachi world. Not content with the group’s previous role as primarily a backup band for singers, Nati promoted Los Camperos as a self-contained show presenting only members of the group as vocal soloists. Under this new format, he was able to secure contracts in places such as Las Vegas, Reno, Catalina Island, and Hawaii, where mariachis had seldom preformed. By the mid-sixties, Los Camperos had become America’s best known mariachi.
In 1969, Nati Cano and Los Camperos opened the first restaurant designed specifically to shocase a mariachi and where the musicians themselves were partners in the business. La Fonda de Los Camperos on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles soon became a mecca of mariachi music and has inspired many similar mariachi restaurants around the world.
During the 1980s, Mariachi Los Camperos became the most prominent US ensemble in the burgeoning mariachi festival and conference movement, where Nati and his musicians began teaching their craft to a new generation. Los Camperos has won two Grammy awards and has recorded and toured with Linda Ronstadt. As an individual, Nati Cano has received numerous distinctions, including an NEA National Heritage Fellowship Award.
Although La Fonda de Los Camperos closed its doors in 2007, Cano and his group continue to tour and teach extensively, participating in major festivals in the US and Mexico, and performing at prestigious halls and the White House. After more than half a century of artistic excellence, Los Camperos remains at the forefront of the US mariachi movement.