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Narco-Corridos; a historical overview

Monday, October 31, 2016 18:26
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Posted by Chuck B Alamda for Borderland Beat from Regeneracion & Vanguardia articles

Starting with Calderon’s war, the violence was also reflected in the lyrics.


Couples are committed to invading the dance floor. The band prepares the instruments and the lights point toward the stage. The whistling is loud so that the waiting can be over. The technicians adjust the sound equipment and from several speakers you can hear:

 “Con cuerno de chivo y bazuca en la nuca/ volando cabezas al que se atraviesa/ somos sanguinarios locos bien ondeados/ nos gusta matar/ pa’ dar levantones somos los mejores/ siempre en caravana/ toda mi plebada/ bien empecherados/ blindados y listos para ejecutar…/ soy el número 1 de clave M1/ respaldado por El Mayo y por El Chapo/ la JT siempre presente y pendiente/ pa’ su apoyo dar”.

(With an AK-47 and a bazooka on the neck/ blowing off the heads of whoever gets in front/ we’re ruthless, crazy, and high/we like to kill/ for kidnappings we’re the best/ always in a caravan/ all the homeboys/ with bullet proof vests/ armored vehicles and ready to kill, execute/ I’m the number one with radio sign M1/ backed by el Mayo and el Chapo/ The JT (Javier Torres Felix) always present and on stand by to provide his support)

With the cadence of norteno dance, the attendees sway to the rhythm of the music which is executed with banda instruments: chun-ta-ta, chun-ta-ta. Everyone sings. They’re teachers, lawyers, workers, students, secretaries, business owners…. and of course, people involved with el narco.

B4INREMOTE-aHR0cHM6Ly8zLmJwLmJsb2dzcG90LmNvbS8tOUVNVENvUDZiUXMvV0JmckZ5bk95QkkvQUFBQUFBQUFBS2MvMHRfaVVpNkV5VVVybG9pVVczZVM2ZUR2LXFIWXdQdVVBQ0xjQi9zMzIwL3Q0NDU1OTc0Ni1pMTE5MTY0NDE5X3M0MDAuanBnThe cowboy hats are almost mandatory for the dance; the cowboy boots and expensive shoes also. The shirts are brand name (or perfect imitation). The women wear high heels even if it’s a dirt covered dance-floor. The only goal is to celebrate the rite of dancing to narco corridos. This popularity, despite being demonized and even banned in some states where it is illegal for radio stations to play them and also illegal for promoters to organize concerts with them or bars from playing them.

Nevertheless, the government efforts to ban these songs have not had the desired effect as they continue to be the preferred music for many sectors of the population, with and without links to el narco. The fans of this music continue to look for music and live concerts of bands such as Los Tigers del Norte, K-Paz de la Sierra, Exterminador, Los Tucanes de Tijuana, Los Capos de Mexico, among many other.

Its main impact is felt in the northen part of Mexico, but narco-corridos has surpassed its norteno scope and continue to invade other popular zones throughout the country (and the US).

Vacant lots, sporting fields, and other open fields such as bodegas are the places where thousands attend to listen to their favorite bands that also sing romantic ballads in between narco-corridos. The magnet is always to listen, sing, and dance the corridos made for el narco and its historic or current capos. The costs to attend these events can start anywhere from 100 to 400 pesos (5-21 USD) average. Also, during these concerts, there is an abundance of beer, brandy, rum, whiskey, especially Buchanan’s that has become popular among the followers of this type of music because it is said that the traffickers drink it.

El Corrido has been, as it has since its origin, a chronicle of the reality. But as the decades go by, the topic related to narco trafficking has transformed it and its narrative has incorporated descriptions of the actions committed by sicarios: executions, hangings, kidnappings, and every other action adoption by el narco.


Born as a subgenre of the traditional corrido–where it told the achievements of the heroes from the revolution. The archives suggest that the first narco-corridos originated during the first part of the 30’s on the border between Mexicoand the US. In his book ‘Cantar a los Narcos’ (Singing to Narcos), Juan Carlos Ramirez-Pimienta, professor at San Diego State University-Imperial Valley, makes a historical journey of this musical genre: The first corridos with a drug trafficking theme can be traced to 1931 and another one in 1932. They were very different from the current corridos, even different to those of Los Tigres del Norte in the 70’s.

Edgar Morin, PhD in anthropology from the UNAM and author of ‘La maña’ points out that the narco-corrido is not something homogeneous as it also has a series of nuances with the literature component; the composer describes the acts, he condemns them or to a degree becomes apologetic; they also tell the story of a reality that oftentimes is not told and that the government tries to hide; and many of the corridos are made to order on behalf of someone that wants to become known. Ramirez-Pimienta has studied this type of music since the 90’s when he was a graduate student at California State University-Los Angeles. He affirms that the narco-culture, and within this, the narco corridos which are related with the economic context of the country.

“After its origin, there was a gap of over 20 years in which it was almost impossible to find them: between the 40’s and the 60’s. During the period referred to as the “economic miracle,” there is no record of them. The genre’s rebirth is at the beginning of the crisis starting in the 70’s and it boomed with the Tigers del Norte, with corridos that were even innocent such as Contrabando y traicion and La banda delcarro rojo.”

During the 80s, when Rafael Caro Quintero was a dominant figure in the narco world was the first transformation of the contents of the songs. There was a change in which the corridos were about a hero; it was no longer about trafficking, but also about money, luxuries, the consumption of drugs and alcohol, and women. A hedonistic.

Although Narco Corridos were born in the 30s, their boom wasn’t until the 70s when this decade started to experience major violence. The 70’s witnessed the Tigres del Norte achieved fame followed by the 80’s when Rafael Caro Quintero was one of the most important figures in the Narco world and it reached its climax during the Felipe Calderon Presidency with the war against el Narco with thousands of executions and shootouts.

In December of 2006 when Felipe Calderon declared war against el narco, far away from achieving major security, the strategy caused countless executions, shootouts, beheadings, and disappearances, leaving thousands of victims throughout the country. With this, el narcorrido quickly reflected the new reality and the “Movimiento Alterado” was born. Movimiento Alterado consists of hyper-violent, explicit, lyrics about beheadings, hangings, and “pozoleados” (people dissolved in acid).

B4INREMOTE-aHR0cHM6Ly8xLmJwLmJsb2dzcG90LmNvbS8tZU9yT0ltM1Z5WXMvV0JmcWlJUm8wWEkvQUFBQUFBQUFBS1kvc2NVRjR0bWZMeVlhZ09tR05zUllZd1BnTW5uTVRHTGZBQ0xjQi9zMTYwMC9DaGFsaW5vLVNhbmNoZXotcGlzdG9sYS5qcGc=According to Carlos Ramirez Pimienta, “The cartels are at war with each other and against the state
and the music reflects it.”

Even songs such as Pacas de a Kilo and Jefe de Jefes discreetly make references to the complicity that exists between authorities and criminals:

“Los Pinos** give me shade/my ranch gives me pacas de a kilo” which according to the Tigers del Norte lead singer, Jorge Hernandez, the lyrics are referencing an economic arraignment with the President and or his collaborators. For narco corridos singer and composer Lenin Ramirez, the government wants to blame narco corridos for the violence, although in reality it’s the government’s fault.

**Los Pinos is what the presidential palace/home is called in Mexico just as the Whitehouse is called in the US.

“It’s a cultural affair, ingrained not just in the people from Sinaloa, but in the entire country and the government tries to blame the musicians that compose and sing narco corridos and tries to ban them. They criminalize them because they have to blame someone although the responsibility of employment and lack of good salaries and armed people in the streets belongs to the authorities.”


Note from Chuck: Narco-corridos are a beautiful form of art that informs the people of what’s going on around their country. During revolutionary times, corridos were used to keep the troops and citizens updated. As the article mentions, in a country where the government and the media sometimes censor the reality of what’s going on, corridos (and blogs such as BB) come in and tell the stories that they refuse to tell.

I grew up listening to corridos all my life and could tell the difference from the corridos then and now. Music is a beautiful thing that has the power of taking you back down memory lane. I must also admit that corridos have the magical power of transforming ordinary people and making you feel if you were the protagonist of the corrido, even if it’s only for the duration of each song. I still remember going on patrols, having an energy drink, and playing my favorite corridos right before hitting a house or going on a dangerous call.

For those of you in the Military or Law Enforcement, can you relate to listening to corridos before going on a mission?


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