From a Mariachi Band, a Happy ‘Ay Yay Yay’

The New York Times

By Susan Hodara

THEY have performed at Lincoln Center and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. They played for Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton at the White House, and at Teatro Degollado in Guadalajara for President Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico and his wife, Nilda Patricia Velasco de Zedillo. They accompanied Linda Ronstadt on two of her albums, and Beck on one of his. They even had a cameo role in the film “Sex and the City.”

In November, Mariachi Los Camperos de Nati Cano will make their Westchester debut as part of the Emelin Theater’s Great Traditions series. The award-winning mariachi band will present a mix of vocal and instrumental styles, sometimes breaking into falsetto, sometimes punctuating a song with the high-volume “ay yay yay.”

“Mariachi music is happy music,” said Jesus Guzman, the group’s musical director.

Mariachi Los Camperos’s visit to the Emelin is part of the ensemble’s 2010-11 “Viva Mexico!” United States tour, celebrating its 50th year and the 200th anniversary of Mexican independence. Nine musicians will take the stage wearing wide-brimmed sombreros and charro suits of short jackets and tight pants, the seams studded with silver eagles.

Concertgoers will hear renditions of “son jalisciense,” traditional songs from the Mexican state of Jalisco (where mariachi has its roots), as well as Michoacán serenades sung in the indigenous language P’urhépecha, a medley of children’s tunes, and favorites like “La Cucaracha.” During some numbers, like a Chihuahuan polka, the band will be joined by dancers performing folklórico steps.

In addition to a guitar, two trumpets and four violins, there are not-so-familiar instruments in Mariachi Los Camperos, like a folk harp, a six-stringed acoustic guitarrón and a vihuela, a high-pitched five-stringed guitar with a short neck and convex back. “We want to give the audience the opportunity to hear the versatility of the different instruments,” Mr. Guzman, whose nickname is Chuy, said, “and to see mariachi as an art form.”

Elevating mariachi to an art form was a goal of Natividad Cano, the founder of Mariachi Los Camperos and currently the general director (“We call him ‘El Chief,’ ” Ms. Guzman said). Based in Los Angeles since 1969, the ensemble was one of four mariachi bands that collaborated on Ms. Ronstadt’s Grammy Award-winning “Canciones de Mi Padre,” released in 1987. The group has recorded nine of its own albums, among them “Amor, Dolor y Lágrima,” which won a Grammy in 2009.

While most Great Traditions performances are evening events, Mariachi Los Camperos will play in the afternoon, so that families can attend. “We feel that this particular show has a multigenerational appeal,” said Lisa Reilly, the Emelin’s executive director. The band will lead an interactive workshop on the day of the concert.

“What we like about Mariachi Los Camperos,” she said, “is that they have great respect for the history of their music, but also the desire to see it move forward in a living way. And they’re certainly at the very top of their craft.”