Colombia: ‘Prohibited ballads’ are popular



‘Prohibited ballads’ banned on air, popular live

The accordion-laced, hard-driving songs about Colombia’s underworld are called ‘corridos prohibidos’ – prohibited ballads – because established radio networks ban them from the air. The Washington Post describes why they have become so popular

“In a country with Marxist rebels, death squads, cocaine traffickers and all manner of corrupt politicians, balladeers have a vast and fertile trove of material to draw on for their lyrics,” writes Juan Forero in The Washington Post from Bogota in Colombia.
“The ‘prohibited ballad’ is a tool for artists,” he quotes the 32-year old singer Beto Pinzon as saying. Pinzon’s band, Cartel del Norte band, shares its name with a real-life cocaine cartel.

The ‘prohibited ballads’ are loved for their sharp, even comic lyrics, and feared by authorities for their glorification of drugs and war; the outlaw life of cocain farmers and the traffickers along the U.S.-Mexico border. In every town in Colombia, there are now a couple of corridos-bands.

Alirio Castillo, the best-known producer of corridos who was fired from a big record label years ago, said that Colombia generates so much more inspiration because of its complex, 42-year conflict – the only war in the Americas – and the long, bloody history of the cocaine trade.
“I’m more or less a news director. The corridos are chronicles,” Castillo told Juan Forero while sitting at his small dining-room table with several musicians.

Unwritten ban

Juan Forero reports that the big radio networks in Colombia all have an unwritten ban on corridos. They’ll play traditional Mexican-style Norteqos featuring sappy lyrics about lost love, but when it comes to cocaine lords and guerrillas, they take a pass.
“I feel that I shouldn’t put this music on the air,” said Francisco Restrepo, who runs RCN Radio’s La Cariqosa programme.
“Perhaps someone will hear a corrido and it will bring back memories of some tragedy that occurred to a family member at the hands of the paramilitaries, the guerrillas or narco-traffickers.”

But on weekends, the corridos musicians are usually booked solid, playing gigs from afternoon shows in small-town plazas to evening concerts at sold-out cantinas. Since CDs are pirated, the bands depend mostly on concerts to make a living. A good band can make $4,000 in a night, a small fortune in a country such as Colombia.

Source – 12 December 2006:
‘Songs banned from mainstream’

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