The governors of the states of Sinaloa and Coahuila are imposing restrictions on public performances of narcocorridos and movimiento alterado artists, joining the state of Chihuahua, which was the first state in the newest round to ban narcocorridos beginning in 2015.
There are now three states in Mexico imposing limitations to these music genres, which are a variation of traditional Mexican ballads that feature lyrics praising the lifestyle and crimes of Mexican drug kingpins.
Freemuse Latin America stringer Carlos Chávez explains what the new bans entail, why they came about and how artists are reacting.
Sinaloa: Music stopped – violence did not
On 24 February 2016, through Sinaloa’s state website, governor Mario López Valdez announced the suspension of all permissions of public concerts featuring narcocorridos and movimiento alterado, especially those where alcohol would be available for sale.
The decision came after a deadly fight broke out during a 21 February 2016 concert by the band Enigma Norteño in the town of Elota, Sinaloa. The fight quickly escalated into a gun shooting that left five people killed, including a federal agent.
Spanish newspaper El País quoted López Valdez who defended his decision by saying that the “intention is to decrease the levels of violence in the state”, and that he wants to “restrict people from talking in favor of criminals”. The governor declared that the limitations on narcocorrido concerts will be valid until at least the next election this June, and that authorities will also patrol various public spaces where such music if often played, including bars and public transportation. López Valdez clarified that the prohibition will not affect individual fans of the genres and that “if somebody wants to listen to narcorridos in their own home they are able to do so”.
In the so called “narco-culture” – the cultural appropriation of drug-dealing aesthetics – Sinaloa state is recognised not only as the hometown of the notorious drug-lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán and the territory of the powerful Sinaloa Cartel, but also as one of the main producers of popular music genres, such as norteña, música banda, narcocorridos and movimiento alterado.
With 6,741 violent homicides, the López Valdez administration has recently been declared by specialized Mexican magazine Proceso as the most violent in Sinaloa’s history. The region’s violent reputation has helped to bring international attention to the recent restriction of the music genres.
Coahuila: The Moreira heritage
On 2 March 2016, Coahuila state governor Rubén Moreira Valdez, during a speech announcing the beginning of the construction of the Center of Penal Justice, went a step further than Sinaloa’s López Valdez and banned narcocorrido music outright, threatening media outlets that broadcast the music with losing “governmental support”. Moreira Valdez declared that the ban will “contribute to build a culture of peace in the state”, national newspaper El Universal reported.
Moreira Valdez also stated that in order not to violate any freedoms he simply ordered a stop to the renewal of all permissions to play narcocorridos, and that his government is ready to “propose to the security board more intense actions against all kinds of violence, including narcocorridos”.
“Even though the government can’t prohibit people to sing narcocorridos because it would be an attack against free speech, it can control the places where the music can be played because that’s a different matter,” state newspaper El Siglo de Torreón reported the governor as saying later that same day during a speech commemorating the opening of the Centre for Military Operations.
He also described narcocorrido songs as “naco”, Mexican derogatory jargon for describing something or someone that combines “low culture” and “bad taste”.
According to the governor, the prohibition follows an incident in which two six-year old children were accidentally shot by their ten-year old cousin and eight-year old brother. The authorities established a link between the accident and the rise of narcocorridos in the state, thus marking the beginning of the restrictions.
** Update as of 16 March 2016 **
On 8 March 2016, Coahuila’s governor Rubén Moreira Valdez signed an executive decree banning narcocorrido songs in the state, thus formalizing the restrictions he previously announced on 2 March, according to the state government’s official website.
The decree further outlines various actions the government will undertake, including withholding contractual payments to radio and television outlets who broadcast content that promotes or spreads musical expressions that condone crime or criminals.
The artists react
Various Mexican artists who are known for writing and singing narcocorridos have spoken out about the recent bans on their musical style across the three states, which has real implications on their livelihoods and freedom of artistic expression.
Alfonso Lizárraga, leader of the Sinaloa’s band El Recodo, explained in an interview with journalist Carlos Rosas that there’s no correlation between the end of narcocorrido music and the end of violence, comparing it to the same incorrect treatment given to hip-hop’s connection to violence, and drawing attention to the key issue that people and politicians must “respect that we live in a country with freedom of speech”. Founded in 1938 in Sinaloa, El Recodo is considered to be one of Mexico’s oldest folk bands.
The iconic narcocorridos and movimiento alterado singer Alfredo Ríos “El Komander”, from Sinaloa, said that narcocorridos are “not a lifestyle, but just music”, and if the government’s logic were applied to other parts of Mexican society, then “journalists who write about crime should be considered narco-journalists, and the money circulating in Mexico should be called narco-money”, reported newspaper RíoDoce on 28 February 2016.
El Komander’s music video ’¿Qué tiene de malo?’ (What’s worng with that?), which questions the morality behind the narcocorridos bans across Mexico, has more than 105 million views on his YouTube channel.
Through its manager, Banda El Limón (founded in Sinaloa during the 1960’s) pointed out in a tv interview with famous Mexican anchorman Joaquín López Dóriga that the security of the population can’t be responsibility of the musicians, and that “this measure affects both artists and audiences in an unfair way”.
Narcocorrido idol Julión Álvarez, as reported by the Mexican media outlet Televisa, offers a differing opinion on the matter and said that he will respect the law, saying that by now he’s “lucky to have other places in Mexico to play” his music. Born in Chiapas in southern Mexico, Álvarez is currently one of the most recognisable voices of the genre.
Narcocorridos in brief
The narcocorrido is a variation of corrido, a traditional Mexican ballad that has its origins in several music genres, such as waltz and polka. The main difference between the traditional corridos and narcocorrido songs is that while corridos used to tell stories of the Mexican Independence’s movement, the main topics of the stories told by narcocorridos are about real Mexican drug lords, their violent actions and their lifestyle. Because of the nature of the lyrics, narcocorrido singers are often legally prosecuted or restricted by media outlets or authorities at all levels.
In September 2015, in Ciudad Juárez, in the State of Chihuahua, the local Congress approved unanimously to modify the Municipal Regulation on Public Events in order to ban narcocorridos at mass events. The approved law includes economic penalties of up to 350,500 Mexican pesos ($21,000 USD) for those who break it. The legal initiative was presented by Major Enrique Serrano Escobar, who also asked organisers of public events to ask their musicians not to include narcocorridos in their repertoire.
This story was written by Freemuse Latin America stringer Carlos Chávez.
The photo on top of this page is a screen grab from Calibro 50’s music video featuring El Komander for the song ‘¿Qué tiene de malo?’
» Univision – 9 March 2016:
Coahuila says “no” to narcocorridos
» Government of the State of Coahuila’s website – 9 March 2016:
Governor Ruben Moreira signs decree against narcocorridos
» El Siglo de Torreón – 4 March 2016:
Governor Moreira: Narcocorridos are for the low classes
» Proceso – 3 March 2016:
Mario López Valdez administration is the bloodiest in Sinaloa’s history
» El Universal – 3 March 2016:
Narcocorridos get banned after the death of two kids
» El Siglo de Torreón – 2 March 2016:
Coahuila goes after narcocorridos
» Café Negro – 29 February 2016:
Narcorridos ban will not end violence: Poncho Lizarraga
» RíoDoce– 28 February 2016:
Altered movement, delayed government
» Televisa – 27 February 2016:
Obedient! Julión Álvarez complies with narcocorridos ban in Sinaloa
» López Dóriga Digital – 26 February 2016:
People from Sinaloa will lose with the narcocorridos ban: Banda El Limón
» Tiempo – 26 February 2016:
Julión Álvarez doesn’t feel personally affected by the narcocorridos ban
» El País – 25 February 2016:
Narcocorridos banned in the land of El Chapo
» Government of the State of Sinaloa – 24 February 2016:
Government suspends permission for organizing public events
» Freemuse.org – 19 November 2015:
Mexico: Musicians abducted, one killed
» Freemuse.org – 19 March 2015:
Mexico: City band ‘narcocorridos’ after shooting at concert leaves two dead
» Freemuse.org – 15 August 2013:
Mexico: Drug ballads banned in Chihuahua
» Freemuse.org – 19 February 2013:
Mexico: ‘Narcocorridos’ can be sung again in Sinaola
» Freemuse.org – 10 April 2012:
Mexico: Musician kidnapped and tortured
» Freemuse.org – 15 March 2012:
Mexico: Popular music group banned in Chihuahua
» Freemuse.org – 23 May 2011:
Mexico: Ban on ‘drug ballads’ in Sinaola state
» Freemuse.org – 9 May 2011:
Mexico: ‘Drug ballad’ singer El Sapo killed in Juarez
» Freemuse.org – 4 May 2011:
Mexico: Ban on ‘drug ballads’ in Chihuahua state
» Freemuse.org – 23 March 2011:
Mexico: Bomb attack on singer El Coyote and his band
» Freemuse.org – 22 March 2011:
Mexico: Gun attack on American-Mexican ‘drug ballad’ singer
» Freemuse.org – 28 June 2010:
Mexico: ‘Drug ballad’ singer Sergio Vega killed by gunmen
» Freemuse.org – 1 February 2010:
Mexico: Legislators propose nation-wide ban on ‘drug ballads’
» Freemuse.org – 6 January 2010:
Mexico: Eight musicians arrested
» Freemuse.org – 18 June 2009:
Freemuse: Presentation in one of the most deadly places for musicians
» Freemuse.org – 26 February 2008:
Mexico: Folk musician murdered
» Freemuse.org – 19 December 2007:
Mexico: Trumpet player brutally murdered
» Freemuse.org – 5 December 2007:
Mexico: Murders of Mexican musicians