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Fiesta Mexicana Celebrates Mexico's Diverse Musical Heritage
Published April 3, 2008

The National Endowment of the Arts continues its special series April 11th with Fiesta Mexicana, a tribute to the diversity of Mexio's Hispanic musical heritage.

The National Endowment for the Art’s National Heritage Fellowships announced that on April 11 Fiesta Mexicana will continue its special series celebrating 25 years. The program, a tribute to the diversity of Mexico’s Hispanic musical heritage, will feature Mariachi Los Camperos de Nati Cano, the most accomplished and influential ensemble in the US playing mariachi. Also taking the stage is José Gutiérrez y Los Hermanos Ochoa, a group at the forefront of the jarocho harp music from southern Vera Cruz. Conjunto accordionist and singer Santiago Jimenez, Jr. will perform his festive Tex-Mex dance music with the help of his ensemble.

Natividad “Nati” Cano (pictured) is the recipient of the National Heritage Fellowship. He is honored with the reward for his work with mariachi music, considered by many to be the national musical expression of Mexixo, and his success in raising the standards of the genre as well as increased public perception of it. For the last 40 years, Cano has directed the famed Los Camperos de Nati and in the late 1960’s when he took over the group, he opened the restaurant La Fonda, which has since become a model for mariachi performance venues.

He is an adjunct faculty member in UCLA's Department of Ethnomusicology, and has been a repeated headliner at Mexico's premier mariachi event, the annual Encuentro de Mariachi in Guadalajara. Cano also starred in the successful PBS television special "Mariachi: Spirit of Mexico" hosted by Placido Domingo. To date, Mariachi Los Camperos de Nati Cano have recorded eight albums.

Also honored with the fellowship is Santiago Jiménez, Jr., a major figure in Tex-Mex border music. He is the grandson of accordionist Patricio Jiménez and the son of legendary accordionist Santiago Sr. A standard bearer, singer-accordion virtuoso Santiago Jr. maintains the old style of conjunto music his father helped develop. He performs traditional polkas, schottisches, waltzes and rancheras, and continues to use the acoustic toloche (string bass) in his group rather than the electric bass of most contemporary conjuntos. Since making his first album, El Príncipe y el Rey del Acordeón (The Prince and the King of the Accordion), in 1960 as a teenager with his brother "Flaco,” he has recorded for Arhoolie, Rounder, and Watermelon labels, and received three Grammy nominations. He also started his own label, calling it by his nickname, "Chief," to give younger musicians the opportunity to be heard. He has toured widely throughout the US, Europe and Mexico, and appeared on the PBS show “Austin City Limits.”

The third recipient of the fellowship, José Gutiérrez, one of the most accomplished jarocho musicians performing today, plays and makes all three of the principal jarocho instruments: jarana (eight-stringed guitar), requinto jarocho (small four-stringed melody guitar), and arpa jarocha (harp). He became a disciple of Lino Chávez, a pioneering jarocho musician, who had moved to Mexico City, when he joined Chávez's famed Conjunto Medellin. He settled in the US in the 1970s, and has since performed and taught throughout the US and abroad. During the 1980s he toured with his ensemble, Los Pregoneros del Puerto. In recent years, he has toured and recorded with the Ochoa brothers, Felipe and Marcos.

The show begins at 8 p.m. Tickets are $32, $15 for students with a college ID, and can be obtained by calling the Peter Norton Symphony Space box office at (212) 864 - 5400 or online at worldmusicinstitute.org.