Narcocorridos, ballads that romanticize organized crime in Mexico, exist in an indeterminate space. They are not exactly illegal, though the authorities have been known to pull bands from the stage for singing songs that extol the virtues of the great drug lords. Still, these songs boom out of taxis and private cars and patrons dance to them at trendy clubs. Though Mexican officials only impose restrictions on public performances and radio shows, recent public outrage over a video in which singer Gerardo Ortiz burns his unfaithful girlfriend alive has given the government of Jalisco the opportunity to strike harder.
Apparently Mexico’s tolerance for violence has its limits. And one of those limits is violence against women. There is nothing new in hearing bands boasting about sexism but in a country where seven women are killed every day, burning a woman alive – even in a work of fiction – is no longer funny. The glorification of violence in narcoculture has finally hit a nerve.
The glorification of violence in narcoculture has finally hit a nerve
Ortiz was arrested on Sunday for singing a song “in support of crime.” Though he has praised the work of great criminal minds and applauded the use of arms in his songs before, his latest video has finally caused widespread outcry. Ortiz avoided prison by paying 50,000 pesos ($2,700) in bail but his arrest is a warning to fellow artists. “A clear message has been delivered to those who work in this business and now they will be much more careful,” says Francisco Montoya, the singer’s marketing guru. Montoya also represents several other Mexican narcocorrido singers.
These songs are no longer as popular as they once were in Mexico. Bands are only invited to play at fairs and local festivals if they agree to not play certain songs. Now they have to show two different sides: one that glorifies organized crime and another that is dreamy and romantic. Stirring harmonies and love-sick ballads play well on the radio and on TV and they allow such bands to put their brand before the mainstream public. They leave the AK-47s and songs of death for social media, where there are no official regulations.
The bands leave the AK-47s and songs of death for social media, where there are no official regulations
“Some artists like Roberto Tapia have focused on a more commercial tone in their songs because the corrido has become an unprofitable area,” Montoya says. “Others, however, release their narcocorridos on social media and compose in both genres.” The radio plays Gerardo Ortiz’s Millones de besos (or, Millions of kisses) while people listen to his most popular tune, a ballad dedicated to Dámaso “Mini Lic” López Serrano, the son of Dámaso “El Licenciado” López Núñez, one of El Chapo’s right hand men.
Even when bands get romantic, their fans ask for that forbidden stuff. “We all know what happens when you try to ban something: people want it more. It’s the same with music,” Montoya explains. Now lyricists try to write less explicit songs. They might talk about a guy who makes a lot of money and throws parties without giving too many details. “The most important thing is to not give out first and last names because then people will guess the rest,” he adds.
Ortiz’s arrest has set a precedent that will allow authorities to punish artists who are accused of promoting crime but music promoters say the measure will not necessarily destroy the genre. “It will be done between the lines. It will become part of the macabre and draw more people,” they say. “Videos will be supervised. No one wants to get into trouble like this,” Montoya adds.
As the Mexican government begins to check the growth of narcoculture, fans are jumping on the internet as if it were a life raft. And they will always have the United States, where there are no restrictions in place. As Montoya says: “Over there, in Texas, Chicago, Florida, Los Angeles and wherever there are Mexicans, corridos will continue to be a sure success.”
English version by Dyane Jean François.