How to dance narco corridos

This educator writes 'anti-narcocorridos' — songs that tell the story of heroes : NPR

This educator writes 'anti-narcocorridos' — songs that tell the story of heroes Mexican singer Vivir Quintana talks about her latest song, 'El Corrido de Milo Vela,' which tells the story of one of the many journalists who have been murdered in Mexico for doing their jobs.

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Fernando Narro

This educator writes 'anti-narcocorridos' — songs that tell the story of heroes

Mexican singer Vivir Quintana talks about her latest song, 'El Corrido de Milo Vela,' which tells the story of one of the many journalists who have been murdered in Mexico for doing their jobs.


Corridos are a popular musical style in Mexico. They're songs that tell a story from beginning to end. Singer, educator and activist Vivir Quintana describes it as a newscast that you sing.

VIVIR QUINTANA: (Speaking Spanish).

RASCOE: "It's made up of the name, date and place where its main character was born and tells the tale of how they lived up until their untimely death."

But in recent years, the corrido has grown wildly popular for one of its variants - narcocorridos, which use the same narrative structure to tell the stories of the bosses or capos of organized crime. In a country where drug violence runs rampant, there's no shortage of narcocorridos. But Quintana, who used to teach at a secondary school, felt uncomfortable with her students listening to songs that glorified criminals.

QUINTANA: (Speaking Spanish).

RASCOE: She decided to flip the script and create anti-narcocorridos - songs that center heroes she says are worthy of being looked up to, like journalists. In Mexico, violence against that group is at an all-time high. Just this year, nine journalists have been killed there.


QUINTANA: (Singing in Spanish).

RASCOE: "His job was high risk, but he performed passionately. For any journalist, oh, how dangerous life is. When you seek the truth, the police hide."

Quintana is describing Miguel Angel Lopez Velasco, known as Milo Vela, a Mexican journalist who was murdered, along with his wife and son, in the city of Veracruz in 2011. Vela is a central character of Quintana's newest song.

QUINTANA: (Speaking Spanish).

RASCOE: "He was a kind person," she says, "committed to reporting the truth, truths that often made powerful people uncomfortable."

The anti-narcocorrido is the result of a collaboration between Quintana and Reporters Without Borders, a nonprofit that defends press freedom around the world. In Mexico, they're focused on raising awareness on the increasing violence against journalists.

BALBINA FLORES: (Speaking Spanish).

RASCOE: Balbina Flores is a representative from Reporters Without Borders in Mexico. She worked closely with Quintana to bring the corrido to life. She says authorities have to start taking violence against journalists more seriously and provide thorough criminal investigations in its aftermath. Quintana hopes that by celebrating Vela's life and dogged journalism, listeners will understand.

QUINTANA: (Speaking Spanish).

RASCOE: "Violence against the press is violence against all of us."


QUINTANA: (Singing in Spanish).

RASCOE: "There are flames that can't be put out, even when others try to silence them. There are candles that are eternal, even when swallowed by the sea, like that one of Milo Vela, which lights freedom's way."


QUINTANA: (Singing in Spanish).

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Should we Boycott Narcocorridos? |

Sarah Quarmby delves into the gory culture that surrounds increasingly popular Mexican drug ballads.

‘You can’t blame narcocorridos for drug violence. Drug violence is to blame for narcocorridos,’ argues Jorge Castañeda, former Mexican foreign secretary. But with lyrics like, ‘With an AK-47 and a bazooka behind my head, cross my path and I'll chop your head off,’ is it possible to see these songs as anything other than contributing to the horrific Mexican drugs wars? Could we ever be justified buying into this market?

 Narcocorridos are big business. The genre of Mexican song has been about since the early 1900s when the first norteño (northern Mexican) ballads started mentioning drugs smuggling in their lyrics. It’s in past few decades, however, and more specifically since 2006, when then-president, Felipe Calderón, declared a ‘War on Drugs’ that these songs have become a multi-million dollar industry. As violence escalated, so did the popularity of narcocorridos.

Lyrics aside, narcocorridos sound like upbeat, danceable tunes that use traditional instrument like guitars, accordions and tubas. Add to this the allure of the danger that surrounds this genre and we begin to see it is so popular. It’s not just the citizens of rural Mexico who listen to these songs either. Narcocorridos have a broad audience and are popular amongst younger Mexican and North American middle classes who are as disassociated from the violence of the drugs wars as, for example, the customers of a hip London coffee shop are from the gangster rap playing in the background. Narcocorridos dominate air-play in Latin hubs of the USA such as Los Angeles, despite having been sporadically banned from the radio over the years. They’ve become so normalised that they are even often seen as an accurate representation of Mexican identity. The Fiestas Patrias, which described itself as a ‘family music festival’ to celebrate Mexican Independence Day and took place in California this September was headlined by narcocorrido artist ‘El Komander,’ whose on-stage accessory of choice is an assault weapon or bazooka. Not exactly family friendly.

If that’s not enough to make you feel uncomfortable, take the example of the crime scene investigator Richi Soto, who is followed in 2013 documentary Narco Cultura. The film shows Richi at a fiesta, in a rare moment of respite from his work, where he dances to the narcocorridos that form the soundtrack for the party. The viewer is left wondering how this man can relax to, and seem unperturbed by, songs that glorify the very violence that he is forced to deal with every day, and which claimed the lives of many of his colleagues. Instances like this just go to show how engrained narcocorridos have become in Mexican culture.       

But what are the realities that lie behind the narcocorrido lyrics? Although estimates vary, according to Human Rights Watch, more than 60,000 people were killed between the official start of the Drugs Wars in 2006 and 2012. What’s most worrying about these figures is that the death toll is hugely increasing from year to year: 2837 people in 2007, 9635 in 2009 and so on. However, these official figures may fall far short of the actual number of deaths and also don’t take into account the thousands of people who have gone missing as a result of cartel activities.

There seem to be no limits to the violence that cartels are willing to employ. The more horrific and public a killing, the more power is asserted over rivals, the police and the public. It’s been known for traffickers to film themselves decapitating victims and then put the video on the internet. But there are also reports of events such as victims being tied to an overpass during rush hour and being shot in front of horrified drivers. There’s no need to go into detail here about the most gruesome killings, but plenty of examples are available on ‘narcoblogs’ on which information and videos of the latest torturing and executions is posted almost daily.

Such a sickening reality makes the glamour that surrounds the narcocorridos’ portrayal of the violence all the more uncomfortably misplaced. Corridos originally came about as a sort of alternative news source since official news was often unreliable and biased in favour of the corrupt government. Even now, there is a lingering sense of the ‘truth’ surrounding corridos. This is dangerous since narcocorridos present a very dubious version of reality and are even occasionally commissioned by drugs lords themselves. In such cases the narcocorrido singer is given a list of characteristics, events, favourite cars and weapons to include in the song for which they are later rewarded royally with wads of cash, or gifts such as diamond inset pistols and expensive watches.

The result of these commissioned songs (or narcocorridos por encargo) is the portrait of a larger-than-life figure who is at once the perfect macho, powerful, loyal, fair and always surrounded by friends and women. An out-law hero, Robin Hood type is created, which is dangerous for young Mexican men from poorer backgrounds who may see these men as role models and their way of life as a glamorous route out of their poverty. Young women are also seduced by the idea of these figures of power. A group of young narcocorrido fans interviewed in Narco Cultura likened being a drug lord’s woman to being a footballer’s wife.  

Glorification of violence in popular culture is not a new thing. For example, we could look to gangster movies like ‘Scarface’ that were popular during the prohibition era but whose popularity trailed off when alcohol was legalised. Narcocorridos are in the same vein and are perhaps the inevitable artistic expression of peoples’ daily lives. A glorification of violence stemming from the human desire to make sense of, and elevate, the seedy and gruesome to a higher artistic level.

It creates a vicious cycle, though, with the drug culture causing the artistic response and the latter feeding into the former. Macho posturing in music derives from violent posturing from the cartels, which encourages the creation of macho personas in the music industry. A whole culture of violence ensues, and so long as something is a culture, i.e. the fundamental part of a group of people’s way of life, it is very difficult to shift. Narcocorridos don’t cause the drugs violence, but they certainly don’t help. To quote Elijah Wald, narcocorrido expert and author of Narcocorrido: A Journey into the Music of Drugs, Guns and Guerrillas, ‘if people stopped singing narcocorridos, the drug business would still continue and still be equally violent. But if the drug violence ended, the market for narcocorridos would dry up and the singers would find other subjects.’

Should we boycott narcocorridos then? Not necessarily. The real solution is to not take drugs. The US, and the UK to a lesser extent, play a huge role in ensuring the drugs trade continues, due to their cocaine habits. It’s stopping buying the drugs, not the narcocorridos, that will stop the war and innocent people from being decapitated. While people keep fuelling their recreational habits, narcocorridos are an inevitable by-product of the violence that ensues. Having said that, I would still be cautious of putting any money into an industry so closely linked to the horrors of the Mexican drugs wars.   


Narcocorridos: Mexican drug chanson

In Mexico, a country that has been torn apart by bloody drug wars for many decades, classic Mexican ballads are no longer relevant. In Mexican music, a new musical direction appeared - "narcocorridos". These are songs based on Mexican ballads, describing the everyday life of members of local criminal communities in colors. A Mexican form of gangsta rap, ballads about drug cartel criminals have become wildly popular on both sides of the border between the States and Mexico.

1. 22-year-old Andres "El Masiso" Marquez performs at the El Rodeo Night Club in Pico Rivera, California. Marquez created a new direction in music - narcocorridos - which is a rap song about the life and crimes of Mexican drug lords. 2. The growing popularity of drug corridos has led to clubs flourishing throughout Los Angeles and the western United States.

3. Clubs that specialize in narcocorridos music attract many Mexican-Americans seeking their identity. This music links them to their Mexican heritage. 4. There is a lot of drinking and fighting at the El Rodeo Night Club. 5. The crowd waits at the cafe "Arizona" in Seattle before the performance of El Commander Alfredo Rios - "drug artist" from Culiacan, Sinaloa. 6. These songs have deep roots. Mexicans have been singing about drugs since 1930s. However, the new wave of narcocorridos is even scarier than ever. In songs of this style, the drug lord is portrayed as a wild Robin Hood fighting a corrupt system. 7. A crowd of narcocorrido fans at Rancho Farallon during the Movimiento Alterado event, a new genre that is becoming increasingly popular. 8. Dozens of narcocorrido artists are now touring the country. 9. Couples dance at the Rancho Farallon event. “This is not the kind of music our moms and dads listened to,” says Elijah Wald, a composer and expert in narcocorrido music. “It's like Mexican gangsta rap. We are all in this.”

10. Like gangsta rap, the narcocorridos have come up with their own fashion style. Among fans of this genre, cowboy shirts or T-shirts with golden eagles and AK-47 rifles, heavy gold chains with pendants and amulets, as well as numerous images of Jesus Malverde, a popular mobster from the 1900s who turned into the patron saint of all drug dealers, are popular.

11. Members of the group "Buknas de Culiacan" are preparing to perform at the "Rancho Farallon". 12. Many bands employ a trumpeter as well as accordion, drums and guitar players. 13. The popularity of drug corridos led to the emergence of films on drug themes. Pictured: The cast prepares to film a scene from Eagles Fly Alone in Tijuana. 14. According to Oscar Lopez, producer and director of Baja Films International, tens of thousands of DVDs of bloody "drug films" are literally in great demand, and many of them are based on the latest hits of narcocorridos. 15. “Our audience is illegal immigrants, the second generation of Mexican Americans who want to rediscover their roots,” says Lopez. “For them, these films are real, it’s not some kind of Batman.”

16. The actors are waiting for the filming of Las Aguilas Andan Solas to begin. 17. “This is more than music,” says producer and manager Adolfo Valenzuela. "It's a lifestyle." 18. The film studio Baja films, which made the film Las Aguilas Andan Solas, is one of the largest companies in the drug film industry. 19. Drug films have fans in both Mexico and the US. 20. Alfredo Rios. known by his stage name "El Commander", walks down a street in Burbank, California, outside the office of his agent and producer, Twiins Enterprises. As one of the sexiest singers and composers in the drug corridos industry, El Commander regularly performs at private parties for members of the Sinaloa cartel. He composes songs about them and for them.

See also - The Mexican Civil War: how ordinary citizens smashed drug cartels

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Mexico's new fad for pointy dancing shoes / Stredná Amerika

Photographers Alex Treish and Elin Paley first saw the Mexican pointy shoes in a Facebook video. "At first we had a lot of laughs watching people dancing in these funny shoes to crazy music," Traish says. "But then we realized how interesting it is to see the other side of Mexico, when people just do stupid things and have fun. Because usually everything is the other way around, and seasoned with a good dose of violence."

Impressed by this video, the Brooklyn-based photographer duo, who have known each other for 3 years, traveled to Matehuala, Mexico at the end of January to see these shoes for themselves.

See also issue - Narcocorridos: Mexican drug chanson

(Total 14 photos + 1 video)

1. These photos were taken in January 2012. In the photo: Member of the "Los Socios" team from Matehuala. In Mexico, photographers met a young man named Gerardo Gallegos, who gave them a tour of the city and took them to different clubs, where they saw firsthand people dancing in pointed shoes.

2. Member of the "Los Socios" team from Matehuala.

3. Members of the "Los Socios" team from Matehuala take pictures near the old mine.

4. Three members of the "Los Socios" team from Matehuala.

5. Member of the "Los Socios" team from Matehuala.

6. Little boy from the "Los Socios" team.

Many of the avid dancers were teenagers, and the photographers also met a few children who made their own shoes at home.

7. Member of the "Los Parranderos Club" team from Matehuala. (Alex Treish)

8. Member of the "Los Parranderos Club" team from Matehuala. (Alex Treish)

9. The "Los Parranderos Club" team dances during the fair, which the locals held together with the neighboring town of La Paz.

Learn more