Cover image for Narcocorrido : a journey into the music of drugs, guns, and guerrillas
Narcocorrido : a journey into the music of drugs, guns, and guerrillas
Wald, Elijah.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Rayo, [2001]

Physical Description:
xiii, 333 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 24 cm
Corrido renaissance -- The Sinaloan sound -- El otro lado -- Norteño heartland -- Mexico City and points south.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
ML3570 .W35 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



In the first full-length exploration of the contemporary Mexican corrido, award-winning author Elijah Wald blends a travel narrative with his search for the roots of this unusual and controversial genre -- a modern outlaw music that blends the sensibilities of medieval ballads with the edgy grit of gangsta rap. While opening up a rich musical world, this book paints a picture of modern Mexican culture as it is seen by the people in the streets: raw and romantic, old fashioned and revolutionary, violent and poetic.

Wald traveled through much of Mexico and the southwestern United States (mostly hitchhiking, with a guitar on his back) in order to find notorious corridistas. From international superstars sell millions of albums to rural singers documenting current events for their neighbors in the regions dominated by guerrilla war, Wald was able to visit these songwriters in their homes, trek up to mountain villages, explore the heartland of the Mexican drug traffic, and check out the scene in urban centers such as Los Angeles and Mexico City.

The corrido genre is famous for its hard-bitten songs of drug traffickers and gunfights, and also functions as a sort of musical newspaper, singing of government corruption, the lives of immigrants in the United States, and the battles of the Zapatista rebellion in Chiapas. Since the days of the Mexican Revolution, corridos have been the musical voice of the poor and oppressed, but also a sensational actiongenre that has spawned dozens of his movies and has been attacked by conservative politiciana and anti-drug crusaders. Through largely unknown to English speakers, corridos top the Latin charts and dominate radio playlists both in the United States and points south.

Wald illustrates the power of this music and the subculture it has created. He provides in-depth looks at the songwriters who have transformed groups like the awesomely popular Tigres del Norte into enduring superstars, as well as the younger artists who are carrying the corrido into the twentyfirst century. In searching for the poetry and social protest behind the gaudy lyrics of powerful drug lords, Wald shows how popular music can remain the voice and "newspaper" of a people, even in a modern world ripe with globalization, electronic media, and gangsters who ship cocaine in 747s.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Narcocorrido is a Mexican fusion of gangsta rap and hard country, a "medieval ballad style whose Robin Hoods . . . fly shipments of cocaine." Its leading purveyors, such as Los Tigres del Norte, are wildly popular with Mexicans and Mexican Americans but almost unknown to mainstream U.S. audiences. Meanwhile, "educated Mexicans [are] horrified by the narcocorridos." Wald traces narcocorrido's development from the Mexican Revolution and Prohibition, when heroic odes (corridos) to revolutionary leaders and tequila smugglers (tequileros) were written. The narcocorridos update that practice to deal with contemporary drug-dealing antiheroes. Wald limns Angel Gonzalez, who "spawned Mexico's most violent and reviled narcocorrido" with his "Contrabando y Traicion" ("Smuggling and Betrayal"); Paulino Vargas, "the most important corrido composer of the modern era"; and others, including larger-than-life legends and tragic heroes aplenty, such as Chalino Sanchez, whose rise to legendary status via demise in a retaliatory gang shooting is "a Mexican version of the Tupac Shakur story." A worthy shelf mate for Michael Eric Dyson's brainy Shakur study, Holler If You Hear Me [BKL Ag 01]. --Mike Tribby

Publisher's Weekly Review

Guitar in hand, journalist and musician Wald (Josh White: Society Blues) takes a yearlong journey through Mexico and the southwestern U.S. tracking down composers and performers of the narcocorrido, a modern spinoff of the 19th-century Mexican folk ballad (corrido) that combines the traditional accompaniment of accordion and 12-string guitar (bajo sexto) with markedly current lyrics. Gone are the old "song stories" celebrating heroic generals and lost battles of the Mexican revolution. Narcocorridos romanticize the drug trade the botched smugglings, fallen kingpins and dishonorable police. Wald interviews dozens of key players, from Angel Gonzalez, whose 1972 "Contrabando y Traiciin" ("Smuggling and Betrayal") is credited with launching the narco-trend, to the Rivera family, whose popular Los Angeles record label releases "songs that are notable for their lack of social consciousness, their willingness to push the limits of acceptability and baldly cash in on the most violent and nasty aspects of the drug trade." The style has become hugely popular in L.A. and northwestern Mexico and has spawned a narcoculture marked by cowboy hats, sports suits and gold chains. Unfortunately, Wald's narrow, first-person account reads like a travel journal, blithely moving from subject to subject, ignoring historical context. He glosses over the U.S. and Mexican governments' antidrug military campaigns, which disrupted the lives of many innocent civilians. Wald may think the history of U.S.-Mexican drug trafficking has been sufficiently recounted elsewhere, but explaining the narcocorrido without this background is like writing a history of the American protest song without discussing Vietnam. B&w photos not seen by PW. (Oct. 1) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Wald (Josh White: Society Blues) hitchhiked across Mexico in search of the modern corrido, a popular musical genre that reports the heroics of its subjects against the backdrop of norte?o-like harmonies in guitar and accordion. His book focuses especially on the narcocorrido, a genre of ballad that glorifies gun-toting drug lords in a Mexican version of gangsta rap with accordions. In this personalized account, the author interviews corrido songwriters Angel Gonz lez and Paulino Vargas, who scored hits with Los Tigres del Norte, the most popular group of the genre. He takes his readers to Culiacan, the heart of the Mexican drug business, where archetypal corridista Chalino S nchez immortalized drug traffickers and their exploits before his own assassination. Wald moves next to Los Angeles, where the Chalino-influenced Riveras reign as the first family of the narcocorrido. In the last part of the book, he locates the more politically minded corridistas Enrique Franco and Jesse Armenta, travels to the Rio Bravo and the Texas border for Old West-style corridos, and takes a bus to Mexico City and the mountains of southern Mexico, where little-known corridistas sing paeans to Zapatista guerrillas. Wald ends with a visit to Michoacan, the southern Mexican drug capital, where he meets corrido legend Teodoro Bello. Half enthusiast and half ethnomusicologist, Wald offers an engaging, fascinating, and well-written account of a much-neglected musical style that will be irresistible to readers of all types. Dave Szatmary, Univ. of Washington, Seattle (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One The Father of Camelia Ángel González I was hitching out of Ciudad Cuauhtémoc when the police pulled over. It was 3:00 in the afternoon, the rain had just stopped, there was no bus, and I had an appointment in two hours with Ángel González, the father of the narcocorrido. There were two policemen, driving in a pickup truck, and they started with the usual questions: Where was I going, how long had I been in Mexico, could they see my papers. They kept me a couple of extra minutes, calling my description in to headquarters, because a Mexican had recently been robbed by a gringo. Then they drove off, only to return some ten minutes later. I still had not gotten a ride, and was beginning to worry that I would be late for my appointment, so I was mildly irritated when they said that they would have to keep me there for a while until the victim could be brought to look at me. From my occasional experiences with Mexican police, I expected a long wait. But no. It was not five minutes before another pickup pulled up, with two more policemen and a guy with dirty blond, shoulder-length hair, a limp mustache, and a really impressive black eye. The truck had barely stopped when the longhaired guy leapt out, pointing at me and yelling: "That's him! That's the cabrón who robbed me! He's cut his hair, but that's him!" In an instant, I was slammed face-forward against the first pickup, with hands all over me. Someone was patting me for weapons, two others were pulling my arms down to handcuff me, while the fourth was shouting, "Keep your hands up!" I was trying to remain calm, repeating, "I can prove I just got to town. I was in Chihuahua this morning." No one was listening to me, but the victim seemed to be having second thoughts. He pulled up my sleeves, looking for track marks, and when he could not find any he began yelling that no, I was not the guy. By now, though, the cops were having fun. They had opened my pack and were asking the victim if the cassettes I had were his. He said no. Then they found my small stash of dollars -- a couple of twenties, a ten, and some ones. "Is this your money?" they asked the victim. "No, mine was all hundred-dollar bills." That was pretty much the end of it. The police removed the handcuffs, murmured an apology, and drove off, and I caught a ride out toward Basuchil. I did not feel like asking what business the longhaired guy was in. In 1972, a new record swept Mexico. It featured a bunch of unknown teenagers called Los Tigres del Norte, who sang with the raw, country twang of the western Sierra Madre, backed by a stripped-down, accordion-powered polka beat, and it had a lyric unlike anything else on the radio. Called "Contrabando y Traición" (Smuggling and Betrayal), it told the story of a pair of lovers on a business trip: Salieron de San Ysidro, procedentes de Tijuana, Traían las llantas del carro repletas de hierba mala, Eran Emilio Varela y Camelia la tejana. (They left San Ysidro [a California border town], coming from Tijuana, They had their car tires stuffed full of "bad grass" [marijuana], They were Emilio Varela and Camelia the Texan.) The couple make it safely across the border, are briefly stopped and questioned by immigration authorities in San Clemente, but pass without any problem and drive on to Los Angeles. Arriving in Hollywood, they meet their connection in a dim alleyway, change the tires, and get their money. Then Emilio gives Camelia her share and announces that with this money she can make a new start, but as for him, he is going up to San Francisco with "la dueña de mi vida," the woman who owns his life. Camelia, who has already been described as "a female with plenty of heart," does not take this farewell with good grace: Sonaron siete balazos, Camelia a Emilio mataba, La policía solo halló una pistola tirada, Del dinero y de Camelia nunca más se supo nada. (Seven shots rang out, Camelia killed Emilio, The police only found the discarded pistol, Of the money and Camelia nothing more was ever known.) "Contrabando y Traición" was not the first corrido about the crossborder drug traffic. There had been ballads of border smuggling since the late nineteenth century, when import duties made it profitable to carry loads of undeclared textiles south to Mexico and a Mexican government monopoly tempted freelancers to sell homemade candle wax to North Americans without going through official channels. The smuggling business really took off, though, with the imposition of the Eighteenth Amendment, which prohibited the sale of alcoholic beverages in the United States. Prohibition was a terrific boon to border commerce. Tequileros swam the Rio Grande pushing rafts full of booze, drove trucks across desert crossing points, or used boats to cruise up the coast. When Prohibition ended in 1933, the tequileros turned to other products. (They were not alone; the Prohibition-era gangster Lucky Luciano also went on to smuggle Mexican heroin.) One year later, on October 13, 1934, what seems to be the first narcocorrido was recorded in San Antonio, Texas. Written by Juan Gaytan, of the duo Gaytan y Cantú, it was called "El Contrabandista" and told of a smuggler who has fallen into the clutches of the Texas lawmen after switching over from liquor to other illegal inebriants: Comencí a vender champán, tequila y vino habanero, Pero este yo no sabía lo que sufre un prisionero. Muy Pronto compré automóvil, propiedad con residencia, Sin saber que en poco tiempo iba a ir a la penitencia. Por vender la cocaína, la morfina y mariguana, Me llevaron prisionero a las dos de la mañana. (I began selling champagne, tequila, and Havana wine, But... (Continues...) Excerpted from Narcocorrido by Elijah Wald. Copyright © 2001 by Elijah Wald. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.