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May Wilkerson May Wilkerson

Video: Popular Music Genre Celebrates Mexico’s Drug War

The massively popular "narcocorridos" musical industry is making millions off (probably non-fictional) songs about drugs, gun violence and murder. Meet some of the genre's major players.

2 Substance

Tens of thousands of of people have died in Mexico’s drug war, but that hasn’t stopped people from enjoying a whole genre of music that openly celebrates the violence. A new Vice documentary (Part I, below) explores narcorridos or “drug ballads” and the multi-million dollar industry behind them.

Aside from the polka-like melodies and heavy use of accordion, the genre is not far off from North American gangster rap, with lyrics like: “It’s a gang of rough riders. Luxury cars, cash and Ferrari-brand clothing. They have the elders’ legacy to command the cities. And this is the ‘altered’ Sinaloan movement, sleeves rolled up, got it? With our bulletproof vests on tight, and our pistols aimed high, my friend.”

The origins of the genre date back decades to traditional Mexican “corridos,” or folk songs. Twenty years ago, most narcocorridos were biographical accounts of local drug smugglers. But these days, the lyrics are shifting to first person, with singers bragging about brutally murdering and torturing their enemies. According to Vice, it’s an “open secret” that many of these singers are connected to the Sinaloa cartel—one of the world’s most powerful and violent drug gangs.

The popularity of narcocorridos has skyrocketed—they get millions of YouTube hits, tons of radio play in Mexico and are increasingly reaching US listeners as well. In the documentary, Vice visits a big-time producer at his home in Mexico, and also talks to one of the genre’s biggest stars, “El Komandor,” who really, really loves horses.