Mariachi Los Camperos: De Ayer Para Siempre

January 10, 2020

United States of Music

Listening Post 234. The U.S.-Mexican border looms large in American discourse these days, but when it comes to the mariachi landscape the frontier barely exists. From Guadalajara to Hollywood to the facing shores of the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo, one of the most venerated bands performing traditional Mexican music is the Los Angeles-based Mariachi Los Camperos. The Grammy-winning ensemble has played Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, and collaborated on Linda Ronstadt’s Canciones de Mi Padre, the biggest selling non-English album in American music history. The visionary Nati Cano founded Los Camperos in 1961 and shortly before he died in 2014 chose his disciple Jésus “Chuy” Guzmán as his successor. De Ayer Para Siempre (From Yesterday to Forever)—the band’s tenth studio album but first under Guzmán’s leadership—is a magnificent tribute to continuity between mentor and student. One recurring challenge is maintaining the sparkle of bar or street-corner sound on a concert stage or through radio and digital channels, a transition Mariachi Los Camperos executes to perfection. The new 14-track collection concentrates on classics and embraces an array of mariachi styles—including canción ranchera, bolero, son jalisciense, pasodoble and huapango. In Cuando yo quiera has de volver (When I Want You, You Must Return, video 1) pompous-sounding lyrics represent the false bravado of an abandoned lover, while María Bonita (Beautiful Maria, video 2) is a post-quarrel quest for reconciliation. The tactics of love are innocent in Pájaro cú (Coo Bird, video 3), about an avian intermediary, and deadly in Veinte años (Twenty Years, video 4), the title referring to a jealous man’s prison term. Guzmán began his career as a table-hopping cantina performer (“the conservatory of mariachi”) in Tijuana and has been rising ever since. Today, aside from directing Los Camperos, he teaches mariachi at UCLA. The higher he takes his music, the more the borderline below seems to disappear. (Smithsonian Folkways)

Mariachi Los Camperos
Sergio Alonso: Harp
Raúl Cuéllar: Violin, vocals
Alfredo Gómez: Violin, vocals
Jesús Guzmán: Violin, mellophone, vocals
Julio Hernández: Violin, vocals
Mario Hernández: Vihuela
Juan Jiménez: Guitarrón
Ernesto Lázaro: Vocals
Roberto López: Violin
Fernando Ortiz: Trumpet
Jonathan Palomar: Guitar
Richard Ramos: Trumpet, vocals
Juan Rodríguez: Violin, vocals

Note. Mariachi Los Camperos won the 2020 Grammy Award for De Ayer Para Siempre in the “Best Regional Mexican Music” category. The group also won the 2008 Grammy in the same category for Amor, Dolor y Lagrimas: Música Ranchera; and a 2005 Grammy in the “Best Musical Album for Children” category for cELLAbration! A Tribute to Ella Jenkins.   


Cuando yo quiera has de volver / When I Want You, You Must Return
Canción ranchera
Lyrics & Music: Juan Gabriel
Solo: Raúl Cuéllar

(from the Spanish lyrics)
Keep saying/That you will never return to me
That you have forgotten all about me/That we are not even friends

Deceive everyone who asks/Your lies are of little importance
When I want you, you’ll come back/When I want you, you’ll come back
No matter what you say now

When I want it, you have to come back/Everything will be as I decide
When I want you to return/Ask God and see what he says

Even though you try to forget/You will never be able to
Because I have your life/Totally in my power
And if you have not returned, it’s because/I haven’t wanted it yet


María Bonita / Beautiful Maria
Lyrics & Music: Agustín Lara
Solo: Raúl Cuéllar

Remember in Acapulco/Those nights
Pretty Maria, Maria of my soul/Remember on the beach
How you rinsed the stars/With your little hands

Your body, toy in the sea, boat adrift/Waves coming in, tossing the boat
As I watched you/I told you my feelings
My thoughts betrayed me

I spoke beautiful words/The kind that lulls hearts
Asking you to love me/To make my dreams come

The moon was watching us/It stayed for a little while
Amusing itself/And when I saw it hide
I kneeled to kiss you/And to offer you my life

Loves, you’ve had many loves/Pretty Maria, Maria of my soul
But none of them, so true, so honored/As the one you planted in me

I bring my love full of flowers/As an offering
To leave at your feet/Receive them with care
And swear to me that you are not lying/Because you feel idolized


Pájaro cú / Coo Bird
Son jarocho
Solo: Alfredo Gómez

Little bird you are pretty and of a pretty color
But you would be prettier if you would do me the favor/Of taking a little note to the owner of my love.

Oh! Tell me your name so I can cherish you, love you/For I cannot love you without knowing you
You are my heart’s desire, my heart’s desire you are/The downfall of men is the cause of women.

What little bird is he who sings in that lemon tree?/Singing in the lemon tree, what little bird is that?


Veinte años / Twenty Years
Canción ranchera
Lyrics & Music: Felipe Valdés Leal
Solo: Jesús Guzmán

I carry a feeling really deep inside me/At the very bottom of my heart
Of old deceits that time brought to me/Of a dark story, of a cursed love

The woman I love left me/For another
I followed their footsteps and killed them both
I was not guilty/Because I was crazy
Crazy with jealousy/Crazy for her love

The law of the land/Prescribed my sentence
I was shown mercy, twenty years in prison
And here I am, a prisoner/Looking from behind bars
Only to heaven/Where God dwells

The woman I loved left me/For another
I followed their footsteps and killed them both
I was not guilty/Because I was crazy
Crazy with jealousy/Crazy for her love



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