MEXICO CITY - Politicians say that narcocorridos, the songs which extol the exploits of drug traffickers, must go. But these ballads appeal to a significant audience.
Caught in the middle are the Mexican musicians themselves, who say their art merely chronicles of the political and business interests that fuel the drug trade and wreak havoc on the streets.
In the most recent standoff, the popular “norteño” band Los Tigres del Norte canceled an appearance at an awards show in Mexico for alleged “censorship.” Universal Music, the Tigres' record label, said that the government-owned National Auditorium in Mexico City asked them not to play their narcocorrido hit "La Granja" during Las Lunas Awards ceremony Wednesday night. In protest, Los Tigres bailed out.
La Granja, which translate as “The Farm,” seems to take aim at the military-led war against drug trafficking, which has unleashed violence between rival drug traffickers (see our briefing on the key cartels and the Mexican government campaign against them) and taken a livelihood away from many would-be marijuana growers and dealers.
Today we have, every day
Because they let the dog loose
And it all came tumbling down . . . .
Mexico’s office of radio, TV, and film in the Secretary of Government issued a statement denying that it “censored” the song.
But the band members disagree. "They have to explain to us the reason for this censorship," Tigres leader Jorge Hernandez was quoted as saying in the Los Angeles Times. "We always sing what the people want to hear, and what the people are living.”
Throughout Los Tigres decades-long tenure, which has garnered them Grammy recognition and fans across the US, narcocorridos have been part of their repertoire. The genre is not just condemned by the government, but by many citizens who feel it begets more violence.
As the Monitor reported in April of last year, narcocorridos have also put their creators in danger – as the “messenger” themselves have too often become targets of rival drug gangs.
At the time, I spoke to Julio Preciado, a well-known banda singer in Mazatlan on the Pacific coast, who once penned narcocorridos. But in the current climate of violence in Mexico, he rethought his career. “I stopped out of respect to my family,” he said from his tour bus, after a concert in Mazatlan that touched on themes of love and unrequited love instead of drug violence.
“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,” he said.
There is probably little that the government can do to control the genre, given the rise of social networking sites. A recent National Public Radio story looked at how authorities scour the Internet to glean information about the drug cartels, which post murders, threats, and drug deals on YouTube or Facebook.
“They’ll do videos of them executing a guy, something like you see in Al Qaeda,” said Roberto Garcia, a police detective in Laredo, Texas. “This is an amazing source of information for us … It keeps us up to date, verifies stuff we already know, and gives information on murder suspects we’re looking for that have already been executed.”
Narcorridos can also feed journalists information. While covering a story about children being caught up in drug violence in the Mexican border town of Ciudad Juarez last December, I spent a good part of a day driving around with a local reporter on the police beat who is constantly tuned into the police frequency. At one point, a narcocorrido was played on the police radio, and he said a murder must have just occurred. He told me that when a drug trafficker has made a kill, he’ll tap into the police radio to boast of his exploit.