Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Mano a Mano with Nati Cano

After the Merlefest show, I got a few moments to chat with mariachi maestro Nati Cano. I offered to carry his vihuela to the bus as he descended some steep steps behind the Watson stage, but the 75-year-old wouldn't hear of it.
"I like a challenge," he said.

Sylvia P.: What's the average age of your musicians? You probably get a lot of young musicians coming in.

Nati Cano: Yes I do. The group has been together for 48 years. Some of them might be 40, others 30, others 20-something. It’s like a football team, or baseball, you have to change, you know.

Sylvia: There must be people who come out and audition, because they really want to be in the group.

Nati: No, no they don’t.

Sylvia: You recruit?

Nati: No, what happens is, that I already know about them, I see them in the other groups. I start hearing, they say, ok, this guy wants to join the group. And I say great. Let me go and just look.

Sylvia: You check it out first.

Nati: Let me just take a look, and that’s it. I just look. They don’t audition.

Sylvia: So everyone gets selected, hand-picked.

Nati: Oh yes, I already knew them. They had a reputation.

Sylvia: How do you train?

Nati: It’s a kind of a feeling, you know. They all know me, they know what I want. I want to project the happiness of this music, the feeling, the passion of this music. And that’s what I do. If I see musician who doesn’t show that to me, I really get to him, you know. I’m going to tell you something, with respect. We had a restaurant. I really screwed it over, I don’t want a restaurant anymore, but anyway. It was my restaurant, our restaurant. It was our house. We performed for so many years, 30 years or 35 years. One night I came in to the restaurant and saw a guy playing so bad, so, you know like [makes a flat, droning noise], you know. And when the show was over, I came to him, I said, "Antonio, what’s happening? You know, what happened to you last night? Were you hung over, or were you taking drugs…?" And he got offended. “I want you to know, I don’t take marijuana, I don’t take alcohol, I don’t take drugs.” You know what I told him? “Take something.”

Sylvia: Try it. [Laughter.]

I mean you know, it’s unacceptable. No you have to...so that’s my way of...keeping the group. They believe in me, we work together, we’re a team, and I’m proud of it.

Sylvia: How hard do you drill them, do you have frequent rehearsals? Are you just on the road all the time?

Nati: Yes, we have our own repertoire. But when let’s say, when we’re going to accompany Linda Ronstadt, we prepare for her ahead of time. And we accompany Lila [Downs], and Aida Cuevas, and another singer from Mexico...

Sylvia: Which one?

Eugenia León. She’s great. Great. And we accompany her, so we have to rehearse and we have to really...Because our reputation is right on the line. We have the reputation of being good mariachi. So I don’t want to take a chance.

Sylvia: It’s paying off, what can I say. It’s my first time hearing you live, and it's exquisite in person. The [Smithsonian Folkways] recordings, there’s such great clarity on there, but you sound like it could be the record in person, beautiful.

Nati: Oh my god, well. You hear those recordings?

Sylvia: I’m a big fan. We really enjoy your music, I’m on a college station [WXDU]...we love your records, they’ve been on our playlist.

Nati: Well thank you, that’s a compliment to us. Thank you very much. I hope you enjoy, and uh...I hope we get in touch, we can give you a serenade or something.

Sylvia: [Laughter] That would be great!

Nati: I know! [Laughter.] Well, thank you for your interest, ok?

Sylvia: Absolutely, you all have a good tour. Where you headed now, back home?

Nati: To Los Angeles, back to home again...That’s why I opened the restaurant way back in 1969, because we were travelling all the time. You know the routine, Vegas, Lake Tahoe, New York, I mean we were travelling all the time. And then I felt sorry for these guys, because a lot of them have families, like me. And I said, you know, this is not fine. Yeah, we were making money but, we never saw the families, you know. So that was the idea for the restaurant.

Sylvia: Is that still there?

Nati: No. I let that go.

Sylvia: When did you let that go?

Nati: A year and a half ago.

Sylvia: And so now just music?

Nati: Yes, just music.

Sylvia: And you’re going to be in D.C. [at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival] in June?

Nati: Yes. How do you know that?

Sylvia: Your singer [and musical director, Jesus "Chuy" Guzman] told me.

Nati: Oh good. Yes we will be in Washington. Are you in there?

Sylvia: I might drive up. I live in North Carolina.

Nati: Oh great. Maybe we can sing a song for you right there. We will, hey.

Sylvia: [Laughter] That would make my day.

Nati: We will, bless you for us. Thank you, thank you very much. I’ll see you in Washington. Give us a chance to say hello, ok? Bye bye.


Marsosudiro said...

""I like a challenge," he said."

And/or maybe a 75-year-old Mariachi couldn't bear the thought of having a young woman do his lifting? :-)

Sylvia P. said...

There is that. I should have known not to try to separate El Mariachi and his guitar case. ;-)

Nice to see you, Marsosudiro...