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A type of Mexican music which evolved out of the norteño folk corrido tradition, using a danceable, accordion-based polka as a rhythmic base.  They often describe the exploits of drug smugglers.


Why is the narcocorrido so popular in Mexico, Central America and the Hispanic areas of the United States?  Much of the popularity of the narcocorrido is directly linked to the drug world, but there are other factors that make the narcocorrido popular.  There are many reasons for why the narcocorrido is so popular, which include: the importance of the subjects, the controversy over topics, the similarity to gangsta rap, the singers symbolize local kids making it, the relevance of the songs, and the ability of people to identify with the songs. 

One of the main reasons that the narcocorrido is so popular is because of the importance of the subjects in the songs.  People are interested in hearing about the drug world and all of the action-packed tales that the drug world provides.  The introduction of the narcocorrido in the 1970s has a lot to do with the fact that the early 1970s were a peak period for Mexican drug trafficking.  With all of the drug trafficking that was taking place, the public wanted to hear tales of daring border smugglers.  The narcocorrido was a way to recount these drug smuggling adventures, with all of the names and dates accurate, for the public to hear.  Many of the heroes in the narcocorridos are local characters that would have remained unknown outside the crime world if they had never been publicized by the songs.  According to Francisco Quintero, what makes a corrido attractive to people is not the whole corrido, but one or two words and also the language the characters use.  Words and phrases that have never been used in a song before also get the attention of people.  What makes a corrido popular is what is in it, not necessarily what it is about.

The second reason that the narcocorrido is popular is because there is so much controversy over the topics.  When some radio stations will play a song and others don’t, people wonder why.  So that causes more coverage of the song, which then makes the song become more and more popular as more people talk about it.  Like the song ‘El Circo’ done by Los Tigres del Norte, the controversy over the song caused it to become a great hit.  There have been many attempts to censor the playing of narcocorrido on the radio, but none of them have lasted very long. Some radio stations want to ban narcocorridos because they do not want to make the people who break the laws into heroes.  People feel that singing about drug trafficking or the crime world brings about more problems for society.  The group Los Tucanes de Tijuana celebrates not only drug smuggling but also the drugs themselves, which is slightly worrisome to parents since they are now directly promoting drugs.  By trying to censor narcocorrido play on the radio, it makes narcocorridos even more popular.  If something is banned, such as narcocorridos, it makes it even more appealing to many people.   

Another reason for its popularity is that the narcocorrido has a close American counterpart, gangsta rap.  Both the narcocorrido and gangsta rap celebrate the greed, glamour, violence, and risk-taking of the drug trade.  Just as rap has become very popular here in the United States, the narcocorrido has become very popular in Mexico as well as Central America and parts of the United States.  In 1988 “rap was forcing the Anglo pop world to confront the raw sounds and stark realities of the urban streets, and the corrido was stripping off its own pop trappings to become the rap of modern Mexico” 1.  In Los Angeles, when it comes to corridos, it is a “world of young street toughs singing about their drug-dealing, gun-slinging pals” 1.  LA is now the new corrido frontier since it has become the home to many young corridistas.

For the younger generations, the narcocorrido is popular because the singers represent local kids who were able to make it and found success.  Most fans of narcocorrido are young boys and girls who look up to the musicians in the groups as role models because they were able to become successful without turning to the drug trade.  In Los Angeles, some of the most popular singers are kids who grew up listening to rap music, but have gone back to their parents’ roots in Mexico.  Many of the most famous singers/composers started off as nobodies and worked their way up to the top.  A good example of this is Teodoro Bello who grew up on the streets of Mexico City, but had a dream to be a performer one day.  So he started writing songs and kept trying to get his songs recorded until finally someone agreed to listen to him.  Teodoro is a prime example of someone who had a dream and made it come true; that is why the younger generations are inspired and look up to many of the singers and composers.

A source of popularity for some corridistas is that they can get their songs out on the air quickly enough that they are still relevant.  The corrido has always served as a “musical newspaper”, and the introduction of the narcocorrido has not changed that.  Pedro Rivera is one of the few present-day corridistas who can have a song written, burned onto a CD, and on the radio quick enough to make it relevant.  He is able to construct a good corrido and get them on the radio right away so that they play alongside the news reports that relate to the song.  People like being able to hear a song that tells the news as well as listen to the same news in a report.  The Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky affair was portrayed in a corrido by Jesse Armenta that became popular because Mexicans were so astonished that the “most powerful country in the world could be brought to a halt over a petty peccadillo" 1.  Any big news story that is made into a corrido and put on the air quickly is going to be popular because people can listen to the news in a way that is different than a typical news report.

The last source of popularity for the narcocorrido is that people are able to identify with some of the songs.  Many narcocorridos chronicle the real world, which makes it hard for people not to identify with the songs, especially if they are involved with the drug trade.  Mario Quintero always looks for the most interesting story that he thinks is similar to someone else’s story.  He hopes that if the song is similar to someone else’s story they will be interested and be able to identify with it.  Chalino Sánchez was a popular corridista among older corrido fans because he was the real thing, a fiercely accurate corridista chronicling the world around him. Corridos have always described bandits and other criminals, as well as illegal immigrants to the United States, and the poor and destitute.  If people can relate to the events in a song, they are more likely to listen to it and support the corridista that composed it as well as the group that sings it.

The popularity of the narcocorrido has been based on many factors, the main one being what the songs are about.  For many groups, their own popularity seems to be based on the composition of the songs.  The popularity of the narcocorrido is evidenced by the sales.  The corrido is one of the most popular music styles in the Latino market, both in the United States and points south.  Most United States Latin sales are of Mexican music, and a large proportion of sales are drug trafficking ballads.  According to Jenni Rivera, “the people that buy music, if they’re gonna listen to Spanish music they’re gonna listen to the real thing” 1.  They are not going to listen to Spanish rap; they are going to listen to any type of corrido.  So until people stop listening to the “real thing”, (narco)corridos are not going to lose their popularity.


“Narcocorrido.”  27 May 2005.  Wikipedia.    <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Narcocorrido>.

Tarte, Bob.  “The Corridos Corridor.”  2002.  The Beat.    <http://www.technobeat.com/COLUMNS/Corridos.html>.

1Wald, Elijah.  Narcocorrido: A Journey Into the Music of Drugs, Guns, and Guerillas.  Rayo 2001.

Wald, Elijah.  “Narcocorrido.”  <http://www.elijahwald.com/corrido.html>.

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