Narcocorridos and El Chapo: Truth-Tellers or Glorifiers?

How the hell did someone built a mile-long lighted, ventilated prison escape tunnel with no one noticing? That’s just one detail in the fascinating story of Mexican drug lord El Chapo, a man who may be responsible for the deaths of 70.000 people.

Narcocorrido bands–groups that sing the tales of criminals and drug runners–have already started with tunes about El Chapo. NPR reports:

Narcocorridos are as popular as they are reviled. When I lived in Mexico, for every taxi driver I met who would blast them, I’d also meet plenty of young Mexicans who considered them in poor taste for glorifying a lifestyle that has cost tens of thousands of lives.

Whether or not you listen to narcocorridos has a lot to do with where in Mexico you live: Teenagers in Sinaloa, El Chapo’s home state, often jam out to them, while teenagers in Mexico City are more likely to see them as crass.

I also found that whether or not you listen to drug ballads also has a lot to do with where you fall in the rigid class hierarchy of Mexico. After all, narcocorridos do a lot more than just talk about who fought who and who controls what drug route. They provide the vicarious pleasure of listening to the exploits of poor men made rich in a country where social mobility is difficult, poverty is crippling and government corruption is rampant. In that way, they might not be that different from telenovelas: escapist entertainment that’s not always wholesome, and that can celebrate toxic behavior.

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Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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