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Odes to Mexican drug gangs lose their appeal

A string of killings of musicians who sing about drug cartels has led many to quit the genre.

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"I stopped out of respect to my family, he says, in an interview in his tour bus after the concert. "But it's very complicated. It generates a lot of money. I don't criticize those who do it. They are like journalists.... The interpreters aren't at fault."

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But even if their work is merely reflective in glorifying the cartels' lawlessness, neither are they contributing to a solution, he says. "It's much more dangerous now. And we have enough violence already."

His concert, which featured five groups – including the Tucanes de Tijuana, one of the most popular narcocorrido bands today – was an homage to producer Marco Abdala, who used to represent Mr. Preciado and was kidnapped and killed three months ago in Mazatlan.

Narcocorridos are usually spun from norteños, a polka-style genre that originated in rural Mexico and is distinguished from other country music by its use of the accordion. But musicians have used all styles, including the brass bandas popular in Sinaloa, to produce narcocorridos.

Where narcocorridos are popular

The music appeals to the poor, especially those from the foothills in Sinaloa, where many major drug lords get their start. "This is what people like here: drugs, mafias," says Bernardo Felix, a resident of the city Culiacan who points to the words of thanks left at the temple.

Narcocorridos are also popular here because drug trafficking is seen as a way out of rural poverty, says Rigoberto Rodriguez, a historian from the Autonomous University of Sinaloa in Culiacan, and the music glamorizes that escape.

Through the 1990s, narcocorridos exploded in popularity, says Mateus Garzon, a concert promoter who helped organize the tribute in Mazatlan. But these days, he says, "I think all of them are going to start to think twice now about singing narcocorridos."

Not all fans will be disappointed. Though Felipe Alcocer says he came to the concert to see the Tucanes de Tijuana, he says that, of all their music, the narcocorridos appeal least to him.

The label narcocorrido is often applied to all songs that deal with drugs, but Prof. Rodriguez says one should distinguish between styles. Some groups do promote illicit activity; others, like Los Tigres del Norte, write about society's ills as a form of social criticism, he says.

Valdez, the songwriter, who also plays the accordian, admits that narcocorridos are tempting. To play at a family party, his band often gets $1,000, he says. A narcocorrido can bring in $4,000. But Valdez says he'd rather be known for ballads. He got uncomfortably close to the violence two months ago when his band was contracted to write a narcocorrido for a party near Culiacan. The event ended abruptly when someone was gunned down a few blocks away.

Such a situation can raise a singer's popularity. "But it's not worth it," Valdez says.

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