When you hear about guns, corruption, drugs and drug cartels what is the first thing that comes to mind? Or better yet: What countries come to mind? Probably Mexico or Colombia or other parts of Latin America. Colombian drug cartels ruled during the 70s and 80s, but their powerful and violent past is now buried under years of anti-narcotic laws. Unfortunately, the same thing cannot be said about Mexico. Today, Mexico holds the title for having the most corrupt and powerful drug cartels of all Latin America. Drug cartels or narcos [in Spanish] are known to smuggle drugs and guns through land, air, and water to various parts of the world.
The exportation and importation of drugs and guns is very common, especially between Mexico and the United States. The demand for guns and drugs is on the rise and cartels such as The Sinaloa Cartel, Los Zetas, The Jalisco New Generation, and The Gulf Cartel, to name a few, benefit from this. They gain power, money, and respect. Since 2006, 85,000 thousand lives have been lost and 8,000 have gone missing due to the violence and corruption brought on by these drug cartels. But why is it that these drug cartels are famed for their violence and brutality? Who keeps them popular and relevant? The answer lies in the glamorization of a subculture called narco cultura, which glorifies what drug cartels stand for through narco films and a special genre of music called, narcocorridos or narc ballads.
“Con un cuerno de chivo y bazuka en la nuca, volando cabezas al que se atraviesa” (With an AK and a bazooka taking aim, blowing off the heads of whoever gets in the way), is part of a song called “Sanguinarios del M1” (The Bloodthirsty M1) by Mexican music group, Buknas de Culiacan. Quite hard-hitting, violent, and threatening, this song is just one of thousands sung by famous narcocorrido bands. The narcocorrido genre focuses on songs by Mexican bands that specialize in composing songs for famous drug cartels, glorifying drugs, violence, power, money, and women.
Starting from the very bottom, narcocorridos began in a small Mexican state called Sinaloa and have risen to become part of a multi-million dollar industry. Interestingly, the popularity of these songs comes not only from Mexico, but from the United States, particularly the Southwest (California, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, to name a few). One factor may be that many of the Mexican immigrants in the United States are from a young generation and subsequently, they bring Mexican pop culture with them. The young Mexican generation look to narcocorridos as a way of bringing home with them and the demand is quite high, causing many bands to cater to this demand. These bands include Los Tigres del Norte and Los Tucanes de Tijuana who are California-based, but the majority are actually brought over from Mexico. In cities all over the United States, these Mexican bands play in sold-out shows every weekend.
Now, it may be that narcocorridos remind the young generation of Mexican immigrants of back home, but what else makes them so popular? The answer lies in the idea of drug cartels being the epitome of the “cool, tough guys”. Many are inspired by the tough narc and how he or she (Yes…women also make up a percentage, although small, of narcocorrido artists) have this image that many can respect; the idea that you can come from nothing and work your way up into actually becoming somebody. In music videos, guns, cocaine and weed, and brands like Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Ferrari, and Armani are seen as part of the typical narc lifestyle. Although the glamorous side is highly marketed, so is violence and death but in a way that is much more internalized through song lyrics and their imagery.
Glorifying this type of lifestyle is quite ignorant. There are so many social and cultural implications that the music causes. Praising narcocorridos is accepting the everyday murders of innocent people and writing it off as something that is ordinary of Mexican society. It is accepting that seeing decapitated heads and bodies chopped into pieces has become something normal and even cool to look at. It is about Mexican families wanting to travel to Mexico to see their homeland and where they grew up, but cannot do so because they are afraid they might get kidnapped and killed. Imagine not being able to stay out late with friends for fearing of getting murdered or always having to be cautious in what you say and in who you talk to.
The narco cultura in Mexico needs a reality check. With all honesty, as of right now there will not be a quick solution to this problem. As long as there are fans and a market for this type of music, it will not end. But we can still hope that it can end someday, even if it takes time. We need to reach back to the roots of corridos where it praised revolutionary heroes and turn it back into something positive. As my dad would say, “Our Mexican revolutionaries fought to make this country independent of corruption. We need something like that today.” Maybe that’s just what Mexico needs: a revolution.