The musical form called the narcocorrido glamorizes gangsters, guns and the bloodthirsty killing that has racked Mexico in the past decade.
The narcocorridos are widely popular in Mexico’s north, and portray regional gangsters as iconic outlaws worthy of admiration.
Some of the biggest narcocorrido stars operate out of southern California, which certainly raises questions of ethics (Imagine paeans to Osama bin Laden being written in Tijuana). But the reality is that a grim economic situation, a lack of social mobility and an unquenchable appetite for drugs north of the border have contributed to the rise of a culture that glorifies crime figures.
The “narco culture” is the subject of a new documentary by Shaul Shwarz that is getting largely positive reviews. The trailer is above. The film follows the parallel lives of a singer, Eddie, who lives in Los Angeles and dreams of hitting it big in the narcocorrido circuit and a technician, Richie, who works in the medical examiner’s office in the border city of Ciudad Juarez. The singer visits Culiacan, capital of Sinaloa state, home to Mexico’s biggest and most powerful drug cartel, and rather naively researches how to get the gory lingo down for a successful narcocorrido ode to the gangsters.
If nothing else, the documentary conveys just how ingrained narco culture is both in northern Mexico and in parts of the U.S. with strong Mexican populations. As a story in Business Insider notes:
Popular narcocorrido songs are sold in Walmart, and one popular Mexican singer, El Komander, has more than 3.5 million fans on Facebook. Schwarz believes a sense of injustice helps explains the popularity of the music, and he admits he was surprised to find that even CSI investigators would listen to them on the way to murder scenes — even Richie, his Mexican subject, listens to the songs that glamorize cartel violence.
One of the songs by Eddie and his band, Los Buknas de Culiacan, has the following lyrics:
“With an AK-47 and a bazooka on my shoulder / Cross my path and I’ll chop your head off / We’re bloodthirsty, crazy, and we like to kill.”
The popularity of the narcocorridos may seem shocking, but reflect a reality in many cities in Mexico. This Al Jazeera America article quotes an acquaintance, Sandra Rodriguez, who for years was a journalist in Ciudad Juarez and is now on a Nieman Fellowship at Harvard:
“For me, it’s a symptom of how defeated we are as a society,” Rodriguez told Al Jazeera. “The kids want to look like narcos because they represent an idea of success and impunity and limitless power.”