"Fiesta Navidad" with Mariachi Los Camperos de Nati Cano has become a happy local holiday tradition. And with good reason.
The program is entertaining without compromising either side of the stage. The playing is at a very high level, with even young guest performers requiring no indulgences. The dancing is solid. And 63-year-old Natividad (Nati) Cano, alternating speaking in Spanish and English, makes a warm and unassuming host.
The popular event was booked for the third consecutive year Saturday at the Orange County Performing Arts Center by the Philharmonic Society. It was meant to be a stretch for both Spanish and non-Spanish-speaking audiences.
"Do you all know 'La Bamba'?" Cano asked the afternoon audience. (An evening show was also scheduled.)
"Yes," came the crowd's reply.
"Well, we're not going to play it. There's more to Mexican music than 'La Bamba,' " he said.
Indeed there is.
The program ranged from a zapateado by Pablo de Sarasate to the Spanish Macarena ("We want you to know what the real Macarena is," Cano said), as well as traditional mariachi music and Spanish, Latin and English carols and other holiday selections.
The most musically challenging and fascinating piece was a long huapango by Pepe Martinez, a violinist in Mariachi Vargas.
This harmonically adventurous work alternated ensemble playing and spotlighted solos.
Here Cano's Los Angeles-based Los Camperos were joined by the 11-member (age 7 to 16) Mariachi Juvenil Alma de Mexico from Porterville, Calif., which had already had its own turn in the limelight.
The young musicians partnered the older professionals in each of the high lighted spin-outs, keeping up in most cases valiantly with the virtuoso demands. One young guitarist slipped up in one measure, but redeemed himself immediately.
Other valuable program contributors included the San Fernando Valley-based Ballet Folklorico Ollin (dances of Chihuahua, Michoacan, Veracruz), and the immensely talented four Fillmore-based Herrera brothers (9 to 14) who constitute Conjunto Macuilxochitl. As with Alma de Mexico, what starts out looking merely cute quickly becomes a group to respect.
The insurance of cultural continuity and survival by showcasing young talent is only one of Cano's many contributions. He said, with typical modesty, that someday these groups will inherit his place on the stage. Fortunately, for all of us, not quite yet.
* "Fiesta Navidad" with Los Camperos de Nati Cano will repeat Saturday at the Veterans Wadsworth Theater, Veterans Administration grounds, Brentwood. 2 and 8 p.m. $25-$28. The program is sponsored by the UCLA Center for the Performing Arts. (310) 825-2101.