Narcocorridos – Music and the Mexican Drug War

El Shaka. Mexican Tupac?

The music industry is full of sellouts. Some musicians are willing to do anything to get a break. The charts are littered with musicians who are in it for the money, rather than the music. Oh sure, they claim it’s about the music, but it’s not. It’s about money and fame. You can’t fool me, artist of the day. I know what you’re up to, and I’m not happy about it. I’ve often resorted to empty threats of violence against my most hated sellouts. “If I saw Chad Kroeger walking down the street, I’d cross over just to punch him in the perm.” Of course, I wouldn’t. I might sling some insults across the street about his leather pants or mock his pathetic attempt at imitating Eddie Vedder’s vocals, but I know that if I resorted to violence, I’d either be sued by his high-powered musical lawyers or set upon by every Tap-Out wearing, truck nut toting, pop-rock listening “athlete” on the street. So, I make empty threats as empty as the conviction of these pop stars. In Mexico, however, where a drug war has resulted in more than 34,000 deaths in four years, there are people who hate certain sellout musicians so much, they are willing to stop the music with bullets.

Violence attributed with music is not a new concept. Gangsta rap became hugely popular in the late 1980s and ’90s, with artists like N.W.A., Tupac, and Notorious B.I.G. We know how that ended up. Ice Cube left N.W.A. over royalty disputes, setting off a war of words with his former band mates that included death threats, only ending with the AIDS related death of Eazy E. But not before the band was largely blamed for rising violence in the ghetto, violence against police, and the notorious L.A. race riots. Tupac and Biggie both ended up shot dead, apparently by each other. Now, the new generation of gangsta rappers have taken over, and the genre has lost it’s edge entirely due to the sellouts letting fat, old white guys take over. Even the granddaddies have sold out completely. Ice Cube makes family movies and Dr. Dre does Dr. Pepper commercials. Of course there are still real hardcores out there keepin’ it real, but they don’t have the spotlight or money of the watered down puppets we see in Taco Bell ads.

The musicians being killed in Mexico will never get the exposure, money, and fame of the top gangsta rappers, but they are dying equally violent deaths because of the music they make. Take Sergio Vega, for example. In June, 2010, the singer known as “El Shaka” was interviewed in the drug addled state of Sinaloa. During the interview, he addressed the rumours circulating about his death. Vega assured his fans that he was alive and well. Mere hours later, as he drove his red cadillac to a gig, he was showered with 30 rounds of gunfire. The killers, who remain a mystery, finished him off with close-range shots to the head and chest. Although his murder remains unsolved and investigators have no suspects and no leads in the case, it is widely assumed that Vega was killed because of his music.

Why would a musician deserve to die such a violent, grisly death? Could he have sucked that bad that someone was willing to murder him? Was he that great that some lunatic wanted to be immortalized alongside him a-la Mark David Chapman-John Lennon? Was he talking shit about rival musicians like Biggie and Tupac? No. The truth is, obviously, no-one deserves to meet such a gruesome, untimely end. None of the aforementioned musicians. None of the thousands of innocent bystanders killed in Mexico’s bloody feud. But, it is widely suspected that Vega and several other musicians have been killed because of their associations with the violent cartels that control the Mexican drug trade.

Making those suits and an accordion look mean? These guys are BADASS!

Traditional Mexican ballads, known as corridos, which detail the exploits of revolutionary heroes, have evolved into a genre known as narcocorridos, or drug ballads. This new generation of romantic waltz-based ballads relate stories of the drug trade. They have become wildly popular, especially in the northern states where the drug war is centred, and have even gained popularity in the US. Not known as the most modest of businessmen, the powerful drug barons who control the trafficking of marijuana, heroin, cocaine, and other narcotics from South and Central America through Mexico and into the massive US market, are willing to pay large sums of money for their favourite balladeers to play private parties, and to immortalize them in song. Struggling musicians, and any other human beings for that matter, rarely turn down large sums of money. By mixing with the cartels, the musicians gain exposure to fame and fortune, as well as to rival cartels and their trigger-happy ways.

By accepting money from a cartel, a musician becomes involved in the drug war, whether they intend to or not. By glorifying the exploits of one cartel, they are assumed to be taking that side in the war. By taking one cartel’s side, they can become a target for others. As I mentioned before, the murder of Sergio Vega, like thousands of others, remains unsolved. At the time, he was traveling in one of the most dangerous areas in the world. People with absolutely no involvement in the drug trade are killed there daily. Only the killers know for sure why Sergio Vega was murdered. His music may have nothing to do with it. Then again, it may have everything to do with it.

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