This book explores the world in which one of the oddest and most interesting trends in Latin music over the last 30 years has risen, the narcocorrido. Narcocorridos are Mexican ballads about the daring deeds of cross-border drug traffickers. Tracing the narcocorrido from its birth during the Mexican Revolution, up through its recent developments on the Mexican West Coast, the cradle of drug traffic. From there, the story moves to Los Angeles, where drug music began to blend with the corridos of Mexican immigrants and the concerns they have with living in the United States. The books narrative then heads across the Southwest to the Texas border region, where drug songs are still competing with more old-fashioned gunfighter ballads, then down through Mexico to the southern states of Michoacan, the latest big drug area. Finally, we are taken to Mexico City, with a traveling balladeer of the Zapatista revolution, and a meeting with Teodoro Bello, an illiterate genius who has not only become the most popular present-day corrido writer but the best-selling composer in Mexican history. Through this journey, we feel what how important the music is to the people who make and listen to it, while understanding the deep historical significance this music has on culture, both in Mexico and the United States.
Guitar in hand, journalist and musician Wald (Josh White: Society Blues) takes a yearlong journey through Mexico and the southwestern U.S. tracking down composers and performers of the narcocorrido, a modern spinoff of the 19th-century Mexican folk ballad (corrido) that combines the traditional accompaniment of accordion and 12-string guitar (bajo sexto) with markedly current lyrics. Gone are the old "song stories" celebrating heroic generals and lost battles of the Mexican revolution. Narcocorridos romanticize the drug trade the botched smugglings, fallen kingpins and dishonorable police. Wald interviews dozens of key players, from Angel Gonzalez, whose 1972 "Contrabando y Traici n" ("Smuggling and Betrayal") is credited with launching the narco-trend, to the Rivera family, whose popular Los Angeles record label releases "songs that are notable for their lack of social consciousness, their willingness to push the limits of acceptability and baldly cash in on the most violent and nasty aspects of the drug trade." The style has become hugely popular in L.A. and northwestern Mexico and has spawned a narcoculture marked by cowboy hats, sports suits and gold chains. Unfortunately, Wald's narrow, first-person account reads like a travel journal, blithely moving from subject to subject, ignoring historical context. He glosses over the U.S. and Mexican governments' antidrug military campaigns, which disrupted the lives of many innocent civilians. Wald may think the history of U.S.-Mexican drug trafficking has been sufficiently recounted elsewhere, but explaining the narcocorrido without this background is like writing a history of the American protest song without discussing Vietnam. B&w photos not seen by PW.