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In: Film and Music

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Alexander P. Myers
HY 377
Dr. Steven Bunker
November 7, 2013

The facets of Mexican life that can be studied through the corrido are practically unlimited, and these ballads can be used as historical documents of important aspects of modern Mexican and Chicano life, as well as of the daily trials and tribulations of the pueblo the popular or common classes. Narcocorridos have and can be a positive to Mexican culture. The same cannot be said about its growing influence in American culture. In respect to historical significance of traditional Mexican corrido influences, narcocorridos provide a view of public/popular opinion not otherwise found in the media or other sources similar to the role of rap music in the U.S. Originally before modern technology or radios, corridos were passed along by word of mouth through family, friends, and traveling workers. Although the subject matter has changed, corridos remain rebellious, political, and an oral form of historical narratives. Corridos are often intensely serious, and they have always mirrored social and political concerns. They serve as repositories of both myth and history for a people not often served by mainstream newspapers and other media. Corridos are deeply ingrained in Mexican and Chicano culture, and are a standard form of marking major events in both public and daily life. In the beginning, Mexican corridos mimicked traditional Austrian and German Polk ballads and also had Spanish roots. It wasn't until the Mexican War of Independence that Mexicans began to make the corrido ballad a part of their cultural identity. During the Mexican War of Independence, corridos turned from the Spanish tradition of stories of romance to non-fiction stories of victories and defeats against Spain. The bearers of these corridos "were mainly men who would be sing in town plazas, cantinas, on horseback, around the campfire and at home" claims writer Elijah Wald. This style of music has progressed from simple folk songs to a form of mass media allowing news of social and political stirrings to be spread among rural towns and villages.
After the war against Spain, corridos started to be written about outlaws and thieves. During the Porfirian Paradigm, Porfirio Diaz’s rurales (Rural Guard mounted police) committed outrages against humble village folk caused strong class distinctions between the citizens of Mexico. Men who fled from Diaz robbed the rich, gave to the poor, and became the first heroes of Mexican corridos. Hero corridos were created during a proletarian period, providing hope and encouragement to the lower class. Around the same time these new corridos started addressing economic disparity and problems arising from the US Mexican Border. Border corridos were written about conflicts between Mexicans and Anglos in the lower area of Texas. Issues around the border go back as far as the 1800’s and still stand as a source of conflict today. Transition of the corridos into narcocorrido began in the early 1970’s and continues to this day. One of the more famous hero border corridos is El Corrido de Gregorio Cortez. Americo Paredes illustrates the story of Gregorio Cortez (1875-1916) as a rancher in Texas who became wanted by the law for killing the Sheriff who had shot his brother over a misunderstanding about a stolen mare
Downes, Lawrence New York Times (1923-Current file); Aug 16, 2009; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2009) pg. TR1
("Pistol" 95-97). The corrido tells of Cortez’s flight and soon capture by police. Cortez served time in jail and eventually received a pardon (Paredes, "Pistol" 97). Through El Corrido Cortez became a legend and hero for the repressed people under Diaz’s rule and for Mexicans living across the border in Texas. El Corrido is just one of the many corridos musician that help bring to light the injustices that Mexican people faced at and around the border. Hero corridos honor the men who suffered at the hand of oppressors and help keep the memory of those heroes alive. These songs in a way immortalize the hero or main characters of the story. It is through El Corrido that Gregorio Cortez’s story remains alive today. During the 1970’s drug trafficking throughout Mexico and on the US border was becoming increasingly popular. The living culture and lifestyle of narcocorridos included drugs, guns, and money which are entirely different than traditional Mexican corrido ballads. Narcocorridos contain profane language, focus on drugs, violence, and feature real drug dealers and criminals. These new corridos represented the voice of powerful drug dealers and cartels to be heard throughout all of Mexico. Some historians believe Mexican government officials tolerate this new explicative genre of music because it holds an importance significance in Mexicans historical culture.

Wald, Elijah. Narcocorrido: a journey into the music of drugs, guns, and guerrillas. Glossary. New York: Rayo, 2001.

Downes, Lawrence New York Times (1923-Current file); Aug 16, 2009; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2009) pg. TR1 Musically speaking, Narcocorrido is a style that seats in the middle of the musical foundations of Norteno music and the traditional Mexican corrido. These drug ballads are heavily influenced by Norteno music with an accordion leading the way through a heavy Polka beat. In terms of its lyrics, narcocorridos are heavily influenced by the oral tradition that defined the drug running “outlaw cowboy” way of life. This wildly flamboyant and arrogant way of lifestyle is well described in Author Elijah Wald’s “Narcocorrido: A Journey into the Music of Drugs, Guns, and Guerrillas”. This book has probably lost some of its kitsch because of the recent wave of narco-violence along the border. Nevertheless, this book proved to be a creditable source for first-hand accounts on narcocorrido musicians. Drug trafficking and violence meshed well with a new sound and face in the Mexican corridor scene. Arguably the most famous narcocorrido musician was Chalino Sánchez, a native of Sinaloa, Mexico. At the age of fifteen, Chanlino shot and killed the man who raped his sister and fled illegally to Los Angeles (Wald 70). After being captured and imprisoned, Sánchez would write corridos about his fellow inmates in exchange for money or favors (Wald 70). After his release from jail Sánchez continued to be commissioned to write corridos about his hirers who were generally drug traffickers or Cartel members. He began making cassettes for his clients, they became so popular that he was able to make and distribute his own music to mass audiences. Sánchez was even hired by family members of the

Wald, Elijah. Narcocorrido: a journey into the music of drugs, guns, and guerrillas. Glossary. New York: Rayo, 2001. deceased to write corridos or "murder ballads" to remember the people who were killed. Sánchez was known for his unique voice which is quite different from mainstream Norteña singers who had softer pop singer voices. Wald comments that, "You could not mistake that voice, and it’s very ugliness suggested that the singer had lived the life and knew what he was talking about" (Nostalgia 56). As Chalino described it "I don’t sing. I bark" (Nostalgia 57). Chalino Sánchez led the rise of the first narcocorridos singing success the hard truth of death, violence, and drug trafficking in Mexico. After a May 15th, 1992 concert in Culiacan, Mexico. Chalino and his friends were pulled over in their car by men who had state police identification. They requested that Chalino come with them and he agreed. Author Elijah Wald states, "A few hours later, as dawn broke on May 16, 1992, two campesinos found the body of Chalino Sanchez dumped by an irrigation canal near the highway on the north side of town. He was blindfolded, and his wrists had rope marks. He had been shot twice in the back of the head. Wald explains that no one knows exactly who killed Chalino or why. There are many theories, "revenge, women, music, drugs" (77). The policeman might not have even been real policeman which is not unbelievable for parts northern Mexico around this time (Wald 76).

Narcocorridos and the Nostalgia of Violence: Postmodern Resistance en la Frontera, Western American Literature, Volume 48, Numbers 1 & 2, 2013, pp. 56-69

Wald, Elijah. Narcocorrido: a journey into the music of drugs, guns, and guerrillas. Glossary. New York: Rayo, 2001.
Chalino’s music continued to became famous throughout Mexico and in the United States after he was killed. After his death hundreds of corridos came out honoring Chalino. "Narcorridos" by Wald contains a wealth of previously unavailable information about the living culture of the corrido in the local or international news. These are not just cool new hip tunes to the ears of people in Mexico, popularity of narcocorridos is growing and now crossing the US Mexico border. Americans may not want to be a believer in this portrayed outlaw non sense culture, but narcocorridos have not just recently starting creeping over the US Mexican border and justifying themselves in the US mainstream. Anyone in any country can get on YouTube and search narcocorridos, instantly there are dozens of songs old and new to choose from. In southern California, Arizona and Texas narcocorridos have already embedded itself in portions of our culture. An interesting aspect of narcocorridos is their popularity among youth especially among Mexican American youth in the United States. Incidentally this new genre of corridos portrayed a rejection to authority for government officials in both US and Mexico. Throughout some states in Mexico, narcocorridos are prohibited and are not allowed to be played on the radio (87). Wald explains, "In 1987 the governor of Sinaloa made a formal call to "suppress the exultation of violence" in radio programming" (87). Chalino, a native to Sinaloa, was unable to play his music on the radio in his home city. Similar bans have been made in other
Wald, Elijah. Narcocorrido: a journey into the music of drugs, guns, and guerrillas. Glossary. New York: Rayo, 2001.
Mexican states and in California (Wald 87). Despite this resistance Chalino’s career took off and narcocorridos remained one of the most popular genres of the corrido. Perhaps one explanation for why narco and immigration corridos are so popular is because they capture the essential reasons as to why so many Mexican immigrants come to the U.S. Namely, the lack of employment and economic opportunity in Mexico and the availability of work in the U.S.. In some instances, due to the lack of radio play, narcocorridos are spread by word of mouth which rings true to the history of corridos.
Criticisms of narcocorridos have come from leaders within the Catholic Church, business leaders, and from at least one political party, the 167conservative National Action Party (PAN) in Mexico, the party of Mexico’s current President. They have been labeled as part of a "culture of death" for emphasizing drugs and murder. Critics on both sides of the border are attacking Mexican pop songs that glorify drugs. Tijuana’s city council and a national business coalition are urging stations to stop playing these songs. Since the early l970s, the Chicano community and Mexican working class have decided they like narcocorridos. Critical factors that make narcocorridos appealing to many Mexicans are employment and income as well greed make the drug trade lucrative for many young working class Mexican men. Rene Villanueva, a prominent music historian and a member of Los Folkloristas (corrido band since l960s) calls narcocorridos a "horrible perversion of Mexican culture", and "a sign of how the power of money amid poverty has diverted people's interest to the most vulgar aspects of our society” (Downes, 2009).

As Elijah Wald explains in his book Narcocorrido: A Journey Into the Music of Drugs, Guns and Guerrillas, drugs played the biggest role in the continuance of corrido tradition into the new narcocorridos. He believes this genre of music opposes no threat to Americans who oppose the use and transportation of drugs through our country. I must disagree with author Elijah Wald, believing that while narco corridos may have a place in Mexican history and a positive influence on particular culture classes belonging to Mexico, but its growing influence in American culture can not a good thing for our future generations. Corridos are a wonderful genre of music that in the last 40 years have experienced incredible growth but had its image tainted by narcotics and drug traffickers.
Narcocorridos seem to indicate a change in heroes or if you will anti- heroes to some extent. While drug smugglers and dealers do fight the government, they rarely do it to benefit the community or the oppressed. Their popularity with young working class Mexicanos and Chicanos should not be surprising, however, given the poverty and inequality that continues to be a common phenomenon in both countries. Today the underground world that these infamous Mexican drug-running songs

Songs Without Borders. Downes, Lawrence New York Times (1923-Current file); Aug 16, 2009; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2009) pg. TR1. reflect is a controversial matter. Much like gangsta rap, they glorify a negative lifestyle of drug dealing and gangsterism that is counterproductive. Although Narcocorrido is trapped between this moral dilemma and its musical appeal, this popular genre will probably continue to thrive in the midst of this controversy. Growing popularity of today’s narcocorridos is an indication that many people, particularly young, have not accepted the official anti- drug message of the Mexican and United States governments.


Wald, Elijah. Narcocorrido: a journey into the music of drugs, guns, and guerrillas. Glossary. New York: Rayo, 2001.

Paredes, Americo. Folklore and Culture on the Texas-Mexican Border, 1991.

Songs Without Borders. Downes, Lawrence New York Times (1923-Current file); Aug 16, 2009; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2009) pg. TR1

Narcocorridos and the Nostalgia of Violence: Postmodern Resistance en la Frontera, Western American Literature, Volume 48, Numbers 1 & 2, 2013, pp. 56-69

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