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What is a Narcocorrido

As the never-ending drug war rolls on in Mexico, one byproduct is the narcocorrido, which is exploding in popularity on both sides of the Mexican border. If your eyes narrowed in disapproval at the prefix "narco," your guess is correct. Narcocorrido literally means "drug ballad." This type of music is an enthusiastic paean to the criminal lifestyle and all the macho posturing that goes with it. We're talking torture, murder, widespread corruption, human trafficking, drug trafficking, extortion, and generally enslaving and terrorizing ordinary citizens. But before we Americans can point the waggling finger of blame at the Mexicans, we have to remember that we have our own music that glorifies violence and materialism. Rap music, I'm looking at you. Let's also not forget death metal music flaunting its dark visage in the United States and Europe. Overall, it's safe to say that there will probably always be an audience for outlaw music among juvenile males of all ages and cultures.

So you might expect narcocorrido music to be heavily electrified with a driving bass and crashing drums. But, no. Not at all. What's fascinating about narcocorrido is that it has the same bouncy, danceable polka sound as most traditional Mexican folk music. Talk about a mismatch between violent lyrics and the cheeriest music imaginable! Maybe this is why so many people like it through northern Mexico especially and the border states of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. Maybe they're snapping their fingers and tapping their feet to the beat and not taking the lyrics all that seriously. Or perhaps the fans take the message with a sense of irony even though the narcocorrido musicians are deeply sincere about their admiration for the cartels. In fact, many musicians have been murdered in the narcocorrido industry perhaps by rival cartels of the ones whom they praise. It takes a dedicated artist to keep recording in the face of possible death.

If you go to YouTube and watch narcocorrido videos to get a feel for the genre, you will see a depressing amount of appalling images such as rooms filled with blocks of cash and assault rifles and semi-automatic pistols that are gold-plated. I don't even want to link to any of that. But I will point you in the direction of the incredibly catchy narcocorrido "Negro y Azul (the Ballad of Heisenberg)," which was written for the Albuquerque-based television show Breaking Bad. Heisenberg is the criminal persona of the show's main character Walter White, a mild-mannered chemistry teacher who begins cooking and distributing methamphetamine to provide for his family. The song title refers to his black clothes and sky-blue meth. The song is splendidly performed by Los Cuates de Sinaloa (translation, the Sinaloa Dudes), who apparently didn't have an easy time pronouncing the name "Heisenberg." The Walter White / Heisenberg character is the man in the black porkpie hat that you occasionally see in this deliberately cheesy and ironic video:


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