Mariachi Los Camperos Christmas• Concert December 8, 2022• Noorda Center
Reviewed by Kevin Rolfe
Photographed by Emily Muñoz
When I was invited to review Mariachi Los Camperos I was really excited. Growing up in Southern California, I’ve seen Mariachi bands like many of you might have, at parties, restaurants, and a variety of other appearances. But to see an entire concert of this beautiful style of music was something that I have waited much too long to see. When I heard that this was going to be a Christmas concert I was intrigued. When I think of Christmas music, I’m not sure if Mariachi is the first genre of music that comes to mind. But it was clear very quickly that this night would educate me on just how amazing Christmas music is when performed by a Mariachi band.
Mariachi Los Camperos (Which translates to Countrymen) was formed by Nati Cano in 1961. He passed away in 2014, handing the musical director reigns to current MD, Chuy Guzman. The Los Angeles based ensemble has won multiple Grammys and is the first Mariachi group to play Carnegie Hall in New York City. And there they were, inside the beautiful Noorda Center on the campus of Utah Valley University, about to perform for an eager and excited crowd.
The concert began with the ensemble entering the Noorda from the back of the venue. They made their way down the aisles as they performed, “Las Posadas”. From what I understand the theme of this song is to ask for refuge just as Mary and Joseph did in Bethlehem. It was fun to watch them make their way down the aisle and to see the smiles from the people in the audience. The audience would play an essential part in this concert.
As the show went along the members of the band would step to the microphone down center stage and either play their instrument or sing. There were a handful of times when Chuy or another member would step up to the mic and introduce the song or tell a story. I’d say the spoken word was done in Spanish about 95% of the time. Being the gringo that I am, I was proud that I understood about 50% of it on my own. I had a friend with me who translated the rest. The men were funny, and talented, and engaging throughout the night.
Some highlights for me, and it’s difficult to choose just a few, were what I call “The Piñata Song”. As band played dancers came out, one holding a piñata the other holding a stick. They moved about the stage with symbolizing the great latin tradition.
Another favorite was “La Bamba”. Of course many of us know the Rock n Roll version from the 60s by Ritchie Valens. But this is in fact a traditional song. While Mariachi Los Camperos performed the song, two dancers laid a long red ribbon along the floor. The dancers began to move around the ribbon, sometimes together sometimes on opposite sides. When the song was at its end they lifted the ribbon to reveal that they had tied the ribbon into a perfect bow.
The concert would not have felt right if we didn’t get to hear “Feliz Navidad”. Sure enough Mariachi Los Camperos played it as their closer. The had the crowd sing in parts and did they ever. To hear that song in the Mariachi style was a real treat. Truly, hearing many classic holiday songs performed in this style was so fun. That mixed with traditional Latin Christmas songs made for such a fun, bright and entertaining evening. Each voice, each instrument, each dance were performed at such a high level. Easily the best Mariachi band I’ve seen. And I’ve seen a lot.
Mariachi Los Camperos brought out the best in this amazing audience. It was fun for me to hear people singing every word to every song. I’m not kidding, there were people who knew all of the lyrics. I was so impressed. Not only did they know the songs, but they didn’t hesitate to sing out. The Noorda was filled with Gritos and joyful singing. I loved every minute of it. Despite common belief, there is a wide array of cultures here in Utah. I love that the Noorda provides the kind of variety they do with their performances. There was extreme gratitude to Mariachi Los Camperos and The Noorda from the Latin community in Utah County in attendance. I could tell that it must have been so nice to have a concert so authentic and so richly steeped in their culture right in their backyard.