In the book, “The Handbook of Texas” Dan Dickey writes that in the late 1940’s and 1950’s when “Tex-Mex” music became commercialized, so did the Music called “corridos”. Back then it became popular to hear songs about drug smuggling and violence. Music from the genre corridos which was about drugs and drug smuggling was called narcocorrido, which some would say is “Mexico’s style of gangsta rap”. An excellent example of narcocorrido would be “El Avion de la Muerte” (The Plane of Death) performed by Los Tigres del Norte, which is arguably one of the most popular corridos bands in history.
Los Tigres del Norte have written and performed many songs throughout their career. This famous Mexican band started in 1968 and was made up of three brothers (Jorge, Raul and Hernan Hernandez) and their cousin (Oscar Lara). They started to play their grandparents’ instruments in bars, and like thousands of immigrants they crossed the border to make it in America. Their first hit came in 1970 and was a song about two rival drug dealers. However, in 1972, their song “Contrabando y Traicion” (“Contraband and Betrayal”) became a topic of controversy.
Not only was it about drug smuggling but how a woman killed a man before he could abandon her. Why would the act of murder committed by a woman spark such controversy? Bataille’s tells us that, “Such a divinely violent manifestation of violence elevates the victim above the humdrum world where men live out their calculated lives. To the primitive consciousness, death can only be the result of an offence, a failure to obey” (Bataille, 82).
Even before Los Tigres del Norte, there was Rosalino “Chalino” Sanchez, a renegade artist from Sinaloa, a state in the north of Mexico that is well known for its abundant marijuana fields. Hodgson writes, “When he was 15, Sanchez shot and killed a man who had raped his sister, and fled to California, where for a while he worked as a ‘coyote’, smuggling illegal immigrants and drugs across the border. Only when he was arrested, and spent nearly a year in Tijuana prison, did he discover his skill at song writing.
He began composing corridos for fellow inmates, and once outside, found his skills in demand from both dealers and legitimate immigrants. ” While not the best singer, his incredible lyricism built his reputation quickly. Having earned his street credibility in jail, he soon afterwards was contacted by famous Mexican drug lords who would commission him to write songs about them and their criminal exploits. To shed some light on this fascination with death, we can turn to writer Margaret Atwood in her book Negotiating with the Dead: “All writing of the narrative kind, and perhaps all writing, is motivated, deep down, by a fear of and a fascination with mortality — by a desire to make the risky trip to the Underworld, and to bring something or someone back from the dead” (157). Chalino, in this way, had a sought-after ability to immortalize the Mexican drug lords. Chalino, himself, portrayed the brave image of the Mexican cowboy. After dealing with the narcotraficantes, he acquired both powerful friends and enemies.
According to an informer that talked to Martin Hodgson, “The cartels used the group’s music to lay out a code of conduct for its members: ‘Through the corridos comes the philosophy, how the members of the cartel have to behave. If you listen carefully, the songs tell you what they did wrong. You learn what you have to do so they don’t kill you. ’” At the same time, the death drug-lords became heroes through corridos. Some enjoyed their hero status while still alive, but most of them earned it after death. This returns us again to Becker’s introduction to Human Nature and the Heroic in his book The Denial of Death.
He explains, “… [T]he problem of heroics is the central one of human life, … it goes deeper into human nature than anything else because it is based on organismic narcissism and on the child’s need for self-esteem as the condition of human life. Society itself is a codified hero system, which means that society everywhere is a living myth of the significance of human life, a defiant creation of meaning. ” Hence, by commissioning corridistas to write about them, narcotraficantes could satisfy that narcissism and become heroes in their own right.
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