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Narcocorrido: A Journey into the Music of Drugs, Guns, and Guerrillas

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This book explores the world in which one of the oddest and most interesting trends in Latin music over the last 30 years has risen, the narcocorrido. Narcocorridos are Mexican ballads about the daring deeds of cross-border drug traffickers. Tracing the narcocorrido from its birth during the Mexican Revolution, up through its recent developments on the Mexican West Coast, This book explores the world in which one of the oddest and most interesting trends in Latin music over the last 30 years has risen, the narcocorrido. Narcocorridos are Mexican ballads about the daring deeds of cross-border drug traffickers. Tracing the narcocorrido from its birth during the Mexican Revolution, up through its recent developments on the Mexican West Coast, the cradle of drug traffic. From there, the story moves to Los Angeles, where drug music began to blend with the corridos of Mexican immigrants and the concerns they have with living in the United States. The books narrative then heads across the Southwest to the Texas border region, where drug songs are still competing with more old-fashioned gunfighter ballads, then down through Mexico to the southern states of Michoacan, the latest big drug area. Finally, we are taken to Mexico City, with a traveling balladeer of the Zapatista revolution, and a meeting with Teodoro Bello, an illiterate genius who has not only become the most popular present-day corrido writer but the best-selling composer in Mexican history. Through this journey, we feel what how important the music is to the people who make and listen to it, while understanding the deep historical significance this music has on culture, both in Mexico and the United States.


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This book explores the world in which one of the oddest and most interesting trends in Latin music over the last 30 years has risen, the narcocorrido. Narcocorridos are Mexican ballads about the daring deeds of cross-border drug traffickers. Tracing the narcocorrido from its birth during the Mexican Revolution, up through its recent developments on the Mexican West Coast, This book explores the world in which one of the oddest and most interesting trends in Latin music over the last 30 years has risen, the narcocorrido. Narcocorridos are Mexican ballads about the daring deeds of cross-border drug traffickers. Tracing the narcocorrido from its birth during the Mexican Revolution, up through its recent developments on the Mexican West Coast, the cradle of drug traffic. From there, the story moves to Los Angeles, where drug music began to blend with the corridos of Mexican immigrants and the concerns they have with living in the United States. The books narrative then heads across the Southwest to the Texas border region, where drug songs are still competing with more old-fashioned gunfighter ballads, then down through Mexico to the southern states of Michoacan, the latest big drug area. Finally, we are taken to Mexico City, with a traveling balladeer of the Zapatista revolution, and a meeting with Teodoro Bello, an illiterate genius who has not only become the most popular present-day corrido writer but the best-selling composer in Mexican history. Through this journey, we feel what how important the music is to the people who make and listen to it, while understanding the deep historical significance this music has on culture, both in Mexico and the United States.

30 review for Narcocorrido: A Journey into the Music of Drugs, Guns, and Guerrillas

  1. 4 out of 5

    Brandon

    Quite a travelog. Wald goes all over Mexico and even makes forays into California and Texas to talk with corridistas and in particular those who've written about the drug business. Because the corrido is a narrative song, and because narcocorridos focus on the drug trade that still has the Columbian, Mexican and U.S. governments at war more than three decades after Ronald Reagan declared it, this music is at least as important as rap. I doubt white adolescent males from the suburbs will start bu Quite a travelog. Wald goes all over Mexico and even makes forays into California and Texas to talk with corridistas and in particular those who've written about the drug business. Because the corrido is a narrative song, and because narcocorridos focus on the drug trade that still has the Columbian, Mexican and U.S. governments at war more than three decades after Ronald Reagan declared it, this music is at least as important as rap. I doubt white adolescent males from the suburbs will start buying narcocorridos anytime soon, but that doesn't diminish the importance of this music. In fact, it's economically closer to the source. Music can take the edge off almost any sore subject, which makes the narcocorrido a kind of a social analgesic. An analgesic also distorts the facts. Wald seems aware of this, so when the songwriter for Los Tucanes argues that narcocoridos have a "positive message," Wald notes that it seems disingenuous but lets the corridista state his theory. The overall arc of the book seems to dig past the sensationalism of the drug business, which has captured the popular imagination, and leads us to more political corridos. Smuggling seems to offer a quick way out of poverty; it's work that clearly pays off; whereas, more socially-conscious corridistas seem to sing about government massacres that have gone unpunished. The section of the book set in the mountains of Guerro was of particular interest to me because it dramatized the motive to migrate illegally. In other words, the troubles of the Border Patrol are symptoms of a much greater problem. Wald's liability is his attribute: the scope of the book is overwhelming. He meets hundreds of people along the way but tries to focus on the songwriters. Still, a truck driver who picks him up while hitchhiking can be pretty interesting when he's listening to Queen's Greatest Hits. The truck driver also had Los Más Buscados by Los Tucanes. But Wald really wants to meet the people who wrote the corridos. If we use the word "America" as it was originally used--to refer to a land mass--then the narcocorrido is the song of the American Dream. Most of these Mexican composers have no desire to move into a condo in the US; the objective is wealth and respect. Wald never seems to be carried away with his subject, something that isn't easy to do in Mexico where so many estadounidenses go to behave in ways they rarely would at home. Nor do Wald's subjects get carried away. For the most part, the corridistas are sober businessmen. I recommend reading Narcocorrido with YouTube so you can search for the music Wald is writing about. Much of it can be found. It's a book not to make you a fan, but to give a small sense of the world this music has emerged from and, most importantly, to glimpse what the huge number of fans of narcocoridos are getting from this music.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Laurel Starkey

    Musician Elijah Wald wanders around Mexico, meets the composers and musicians who write and perform corridos, and narrates his adventures. This would work better as a documentary where we could hear the songs (most Americans won't be familiar with any of them). It's a travelogue of sorts and Wald has a knack for entertaining descriptions of the characters he meets and the towns he visits. I recommend it.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Zachary Eritz

    A very insightful look into the budding genre of the narcocorrido. This is a genre that has now defined the Mexican-American culture and has surged ever since its inception in Los Angeles.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Adriel

    Even in 2020, an entertaining tour through the Mexican corridor scene at the end of the 1990's. As comprehensive a look from an American author that we may ever get.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Wesley Gerrard

    Whilst planning to do a university translation dissertation on some aspect of narcoculture I was drawn to this work (in English - also simultaneously released bilingually with a Spanish version) by American author and folk musician, Elijah Wald. Having been introduced and hooked on the sounds of Los Tigres Del Norte for years, the Narcocorrido is a music form that particularly interests me. The Spanish word 'Correr' = to run, gives way to the Corrido form of music, a Mexican musical ballad, orig Whilst planning to do a university translation dissertation on some aspect of narcoculture I was drawn to this work (in English - also simultaneously released bilingually with a Spanish version) by American author and folk musician, Elijah Wald. Having been introduced and hooked on the sounds of Los Tigres Del Norte for years, the Narcocorrido is a music form that particularly interests me. The Spanish word 'Correr' = to run, gives way to the Corrido form of music, a Mexican musical ballad, originally historically done as the spoken word, but more recently with Mexican folk music of accordions, guitars and harps added. It is a form of Norteño / Ranchera / Mariachi music, very spicy in rhythm, with neatly rhyming lyrics, telling a popular story. A lively, popular music artform, where masculinity and hyper-masculinity can flourish. The traditional Corrido has been superseded by the Narcocorrido, which tells the stories of Mexican and Latin American drug lords and their conquests - their crossborder trafficking, their grisly assassinations, their lovelife, their organisations. The Corrido is an alternative form of news and corridistas may cover any political event, with some controversial writers documenting political scandals and guerrilla uprisings. Elijah Wald takes us on an interesting personal journey as he hitchhikes and buses across every conceivable region in Mexico and also dips into the Corrido communities of North America. We meet the stars of the genre, the well known celebrity figures, from Los Tigres Del Norte themselves and their most famous writers such as Jefe del Jefes, Teodoro Bello. The issues of assassinated star Chalino Sánchez were particularly interesting and displayed the true dangerous nature of these musicians and their controversial cultural work. We head from the Sinaloan narcocorrido heartland, up to Texas and onto rural Michoacan. Not only do we learn more of the drug trafficking inspirations and the gruesome Mexican drug war, but also we learn of other areas of Mexican culture, history and politics. Wald is a man of the people and the rural campesinos are never far from his heart. He is equally at home listening to corridista buskers on the bus aswell as being able to snort cocaine whilst partying with the stars. For me, the translations done by the author about the often unknown corridos are a true revelation and, being an apprentice translator, I particularly found this aspect of the book exciting. The book is a real adventure and I'd encourage any travel lover to get involved in the quint narrations and journeying. I think that this book will long be regarded as the definitive text on Narcocorridos and I look forward to reading more work by Elijah Wald. It has left me a large legacy of topics and material to research and I shall be busy well into the future covering issues raised by my reading of this most excellent, well written text.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Guamu

    Elijah Wald recorre el país y parte de los Estados Unidos buscando a los compositores contemporáneos de corridos para entrevistarlos. Al parecer hay muchas razones para cantarle a los narcos, desde aprovechar el tren para ganar dinero fácil, pasando por hacerlos por encargo, hasta escribirlos con la idea de que son algo positivo que van a alejar a la gente de lo que vanaglorian. Las anécdotas de la búsqueda de los autores es incluso más entretenida que las entrevistas y los análisis de los corrido Elijah Wald recorre el país y parte de los Estados Unidos buscando a los compositores contemporáneos de corridos para entrevistarlos. Al parecer hay muchas razones para cantarle a los narcos, desde aprovechar el tren para ganar dinero fácil, pasando por hacerlos por encargo, hasta escribirlos con la idea de que son algo positivo que van a alejar a la gente de lo que vanaglorian. Las anécdotas de la búsqueda de los autores es incluso más entretenida que las entrevistas y los análisis de los corridos en si. Al final de cuentas el tema de las drogas y el narco es complejo y por lo tanto toda la cultura que sirve de contexto a las canciones.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Michelle

    This is an extremely respectful view of Mexico, Mexicans, and Mexican culture. He introduces us to the Narcocorrido scene throughout Mexico and parts of the U.S. The writer is a white american, but often times criticizes his own country and culture as well as its foreign policy. This is a fascinating read, because he hitchhikes throughout the Mexican countryside and describes in detail the people and places he meets along the way.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Dave

    A great idea for a book and some rigorous efforts to track down the people and characters related to this genre of music - its clever double meanings, flowing verse and steadfast guitar strumming. This book has probably lost some of its kitsch because of the recent wave of narcoviolence along the border; Tijuana radio stations now refuse to play the corridos as they are a now in poor taste when juxtaposed with the wanton violence.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Terence

    This was a massive overload of information, but really an interesting drill down about a major music culture. Sometimes it is a bit overwhelming, mainly because I am not the biggest fan of corridos, so even jamming the tracks that Wald gets excited about doesn't really get me excited. However the context it helps establish is great for me and my interest in music cultures and subcultures.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Darrell

    got into this author after a multi page cover article in the LA Weekly about Chalino Sanchez who wrote hero myth songs about egotistical drug traffickers of Mexican extraction learned what the 3 animals are what a cuerno de chiva is

  11. 5 out of 5

    Brian

    Wish it came with a CD; the only artists covered I'd heard of before reading were Chalino Sanchez and Los Tigres. Good read about a style of music I had only vaguely heard of; every culture's got its outlaw songs. Plus, it's a fine travelogue through Mexico.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Marc

    It takes work to merge travel lit with ethnomusicology and come up with something this boring

  13. 4 out of 5

    Clay

    Not much of a stylist, but he gets the facts straight. A little too much of a journalistic nod to Hunter S. Thompson.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Dylan

    One nerd's mexican vacation yields some good stories here and there. Get's a little repetitive. Mexicomexicomexico.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Maria

  16. 5 out of 5

    Andrea

  17. 4 out of 5

    Dave

  18. 5 out of 5

    Gillian

  19. 5 out of 5

    Victor

  20. 5 out of 5

    Gabby Cavazos

  21. 5 out of 5

    Celi

  22. 4 out of 5

    David Turner

  23. 4 out of 5

    Moira

  24. 5 out of 5

    Julie

  25. 4 out of 5

    Franci Washburn

  26. 4 out of 5

    Linz

  27. 4 out of 5

    Jefferson

  28. 4 out of 5

    Mark Taylor

  29. 4 out of 5

    Trevor Baca

  30. 5 out of 5

    Liss

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