There's more to mariachi music than most people realize, says longtime mariachi bandleader Nati Cano.
"It's like Mexican food," said Cano, who'll play with his group Thursday at The Washington Center for the Performing Arts. "There is more to Mexican food than chimichangas and burritos and nachos and tacos.
"Mariachi is so much," he added. "We cover almost every aspect of the songs and music and dances from Mexico."
And if the recognition he and his band have received is any guide, Cano is going to be cooking up the gourmet version of mariachi.
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"People say, 'I have heard many mariachis before, but nothing like this.' It's very well organized, the way we move, the way we stand, the way we use the song."
Mariachi Los Camperos de Nati Cano has been featured on the Smithsonian Institution's Folkways recordings, has played at the Lincoln Center and the Kennedy Center, and has received Mexico's top award for mariachi.
"I hope that people go with the idea that this mariachi represents a formal art," he said.
In fact, he has made educating his audiences part of his mission.
"Nati Cano has dedicated his life to spreading the word of mariachi music, and he's done it very, very well," Chris Nickson wrote for All Music Guide. Cano and Los Camperos recorded and performed with Linda Ronstadt, when the singer explored mariachi music.
Cano is known for being both a traditionalist and an innovator. Asked about that, he said mariachi has continued to evolve through the years, as has Los Camperos, which has been performing for more than 40 years.
"When it comes to innovation, we can go back a couple of hundred years or just two, three years," he said.
One recent development for Los Camperos: performing with symphony orchestras.
"For the last 10 or 12 years, we have been performing with the philharmonic in different places," he said. "In the past, you never saw mariachis play in a concert hall with a philharmonic."
That move is not surprising, given Canos's own musical tastes.
"I listen to classical music, opera," he said. "Hip-hop and rap music, I don't feel it, and I don't follow it. When I listen to music, I listen to classical music."
If you go
What: The famed Mariachi Los Camperos de Nati Cano, who visited Olympia in 2004 as part of the "Masters of Mexican Music" show, open the season at The Washington Center for the Performing Arts.
When: 7:30 p.m. tonight
Where: The Washington Center for the Performing Arts, 512 Washington St. S.E., Olympia
Tickets: $29.50-$25.50, $27.50-$23.50 for students and seniors, $14.75-$12.75 for children
More information: 360-753-8586 or www.washingtoncenter.org