music, charts, opinions


El Chapo

How Do We Hear Violent Corridos? (Desfile de Éxitos 3/12/16)

los tucanes

Thanks to Los Tucanes de Tijana, NorteñoBlog has been forced into another installment of our occasional feature HASTY CARTEL GOOGLING. This long-running quintet of corrideros is nothing if not consistent, and they’re back at #20 on the Regional Mexican airplay chart with “Panchito El F1,” a pro forma cartel ballad ripped from the headlines by their prolific songwriter Mario Quintero. The story concerns a real life honcho of the Gulf Cartel in Zacatecas. Until recently he operated under the nombres de cartel “Panchito” and “F1,” but was captured along with coworkers in May. The federales also confiscated some of the cartel’s heavy weaponry, including four grenade launchers and four AK47s. (No andan cazando venados con esa mierda, amirite?) The song is Panchito’s origin story: when ordered to kill someone else’s family, he refuses. As a penalty, his own family is kidnapped and tortured, but he gets them back. (I think; standard gabacho translation caveats apply.) The corrido also mentions a different Gulf Cartel honcho named Comandante Hamburguesa. Since this Hamburgler appears to be still at large, NorteñoBlog will leave his Hasty Cartel Googling up to you!

Does current Mexican law permit narcocorridos on the radio? This recent article suggests “Panchito El F1” is probably banned from Mexico’s airwaves because it “publicly supports criminal actions.” (I’m sure the Gulf Cartel is wondering why membership is down.) As we saw in our last round of Hasty Cartel Googling, this ban is not absolute: La Séptima Banda recently charted with the wafer-thin character study “El Hijo del Ingeniero,” based on the party habits of a real life cartel scion. But that’s a party song. “F1” has violence and weaponry and is not the sort of thing the Mexican government wants impressionable muchachos to hear. You know, all those muchachos who listen to the radio but don’t know how to work Youtube.

NorteñoBlog does not support banning violent corridos from the radio, because banning violent corridos from the radio is silly. Corrido bans are the ineffective smokescreens of an utterly failed war on drugs. Better to focus on the corruption that prevents Mexico from thoroughly prosecuting its criminals. Better to alleviate Mexico’s poverty, or to deal with drug-addicted El Norte; these are the blights that have driven Mexican people to the cartels. (A possibly optimistic statistic: “A 2012 study by the Mexcian Institute of Competitiveness (IMCO) figured if the U.S. legalized marijuana, Mexican drug cartels would lose 30 percent of their revenue.”) There are no simple solutions; but whatever the solutions might be, neoliberal outrage over suppressing free speech is a secondary issue.

So here’s the real question when it comes to songs like “F1”: What do people hear in violent corridos, and why? Continue reading “How Do We Hear Violent Corridos? (Desfile de Éxitos 3/12/16)”

El Corrido del Chapo y Sean Penn

sean penn

Sean Penn interviewed El Chapo. Or so NorteñoBlog has been told. I haven’t actually made it to the part of the article where Penn talks to Chapo, because I’m still wading through Penn’s introduction, which spends 2,300 words just getting out of New York City and uses most of those words to probe the anguished psyche of its narrator. It’s like The Monster at the End of This Book, only with less editing and more penises. (See below.)

Here are some of the items on Sean Penn’s mind: Sean Penn’s inability to use a laptop or a smart phone; an unspecified period in history “when walls were walls”; El Chapo’s history as a prison escape artist (OK, this inclusion makes sense); the failed history of the drug war (this also makes sense, but maybe he could have summarized it in a couple sentences?); the whole storied history of how Sean Penn landed this interview, which I am assured actually exists; Sean Penn’s limited knowledge of Spanish; and the passage no self-respecting blog can resist quoting, the passage that should grace Sean Penn’s tombstone or at least his Pulitzer, the passage that will howl in my ear the next time I’m writing something for money:

I throw my satchel into the open back of one of the SUVs, and lumber over to the tree line to take a piss. Dick in hand, I do consider it among my body parts vulnerable to the knives of irrational narco types, and take a fond last look, before tucking it back into my pants.

I mean, there’s at least two unnecessary commas in there! Continue reading “El Corrido del Chapo y Sean Penn”

Los Titanes Fake It So Real They’re Beyond Fake


UPDATE: Los Titanes’ singer has spoken about the mistaken identity:

“We wanted a character that looked like ‘El Chapo,'” Sanchez Ayon said. “We interviewed actors. But it turns out my dad is short, we put the baseball cap on and put him in the video. We didn’t mean to cause a problem.”


Remember: in this new media economy, we bloggers are the cutting edge of journalism!

A video that surfaced Thursday purportedly showing “the most wanted man in the world,” Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, is actually cellphone video from the set of a music video portraying the famed Mexican drug lord.

The allegedly “leaked” video, published by El Blog Del Narco, shows a group of more than a dozen men, many heavily armed and some wearing military fatigues, at a party with a band playing music and a man performing dressage with a horse.

Dressage? A heavily armed paramilitary force?? I’m surprised nobody mistook the guy for Mitt Romney announcing his presidential bid at a border patrol rally. The Chapo likeness was good enough to fool — with reservations — one former DEA official:

“Based on several factors, there is a very strong possibility — I would say 90 to 95 percent — that it’s (El Chapo) in the video,” Vigil said in a phone interview with on Thursday before the video’s origin was revealed. “I don’t know who else it could be.”

So apparently there are El Chapo impersonators in the world, and in the name of verisimilitude Los Titanes de Durango hired one for their “Ando Arremangado” video, and some alternative footage made its way from a phone to a narco site, and then precariously close to official investigation channels. If Los Titanes were angling for some free publicity and a good story to tell at parties, they succeeded. I wonder if the DEA has a file on them now.

It’s no secret that part of norteño music’s thrill comes from its proximity to real-life narco activity. Remember my man Juan Carlos: “Everybody thinks that they know the people [in the songs]. When we’re drunk, we sing a lot of Mexican narcocorridos… We feel good ‘cause maybe one person is from Sinaloa, so it makes you proud of those people.” Whether that proximity is real or implied varies from case to case, and most narco singers live quiet suburban lives and simply put on an act for their fans. So it’s no surprise that Los Titanes would depict themselves hanging out with El Chapo. And no matter who initiated this video leak, maybe it makes them feel more badass — they’ve faked it so real they’re beyond fake.

By the way, the song — in which the family band proclaims itself ready for action — is good. Drums and bass settle into a hard and steady rolling rhythm while the bajo sexto sticks to the offbeats. Occasionally the whole rhythm section joins forces for some syncopated fills that land like thrown punches. The accordion lays a series of nonstop ornamentation over the top, and Sergio Sánchez Ayón sings a sturdy melody. It’s that norteño sweet spot — a simple tune played with deceptive complexity, enfolded in the paratextual layers of the video. Pick to Click; just don’t imagine you’re watching a documentary.

Ask a Norteño Fan: Juan Carlos talks Movimiento Alterado


“The first time when I hear the corridos — ‘Sanguinarios del M1’ — when I hear that song and when I see how these guys dress, I like it, and I buy a lot of clothes and I like a lot of style of those guys, of those groups… the Movimiento Alterado.”

So says Juan Carlos, a 25-year-old norteño fan who lives and works mixing chemicals near Chicago. Though his family hails from the central Mexican state of Guanajuato, he mostly treasures the new corridos coming out of Sinaloa, a few states to the northwest. His first love, “Sanguinarios,” was the 2010 flagship song of Movimiento Alterado, a loose affiliation of wannabe millionaires playing ultraviolet horror-corridos under the aegis of Burbank-based producers Adolfo and Omar Valenzuela, aka “Los Twiins.” They’re the guys in the “Sanguinarios” video who scowl at you last, and the only ones who don’t sing a verse.

Listeners with a vested interest in the 100-year-old corrido tradition tend to despise Alterado, but for many young fans like Juan Carlos, the movement defines “corrido.” Continue reading “Ask a Norteño Fan: Juan Carlos talks Movimiento Alterado”

Top 5 W.T.F. Corrido Moments!

gucci el chapo

5) Omar Ruiz performs “El Americano” for George Jung

For an American to get his own narcocorrido is rare in itself. For George Jung, the infamous drug trafficker, it’s not much of a stretch to imagine him being worthy of one — after all, the man already had a movie made based on his life. He’s an individual that I’m sure has lived through some surreal moments. So I can only imagine what was going through his head when he ran into the young up-and-coming artist Omar Ruiz. (Although by the looks of it, it was most likely a planned meeting.)

The video shows an attentive if somewhat confused Jung trying to understand the corrido being sung to him about his own life… in Spanish, of course. At one point he lights a cigarette. Perhaps he was getting bored but I’d like to think he was just taking it all in. By the end of the song, it becomes apparent that Jung did indeed appreciate the song, describing it as beautiful.

Continue reading “Top 5 W.T.F. Corrido Moments!”

La Buena, La Mala, y Las Feas


NorteñoBlog went on vacation at the worst possible time, because while I was gone, IT ALL WENT DOWN. Not with the music. Except for El Komander (¡VALE LA PENA!), very few notable albums came out in the past few weeks; we’ll catch up with albums and singles in the coming days. No, I’m talking about las personas en las noticias:


Joan Sebastian’s discography is a mile long. The singer, songwriter, and guitarist not only wrote over a thousand songs, from ranchera to synthpop, but he wrote and produced entire albums for other singers. This is how NorteñoBlog has encountered him in the past: as the man behind Vicente Fernandez’s irresistible “Estos Celos” and Graciela Beltrán’s “Robame Un Beso.” Sebastian was famously “el poeta del pueblo,” riding his horse on stage and representing for his gente, and that meant giving the people what they wanted, mixing up regional styles with pop sounds from El Norte and acting in the novela Tú y Yo. And then there’s this delightful factoid about the man born José Manuel Figueroa:

Mr. Sebastian’s Facebook page says that he changed his name to Juan Sebastian in 1977, and that he turned the “u” in “Juan” into an “o” on the advice of his sister, a numerologist.

Maybe a commenter can explain how that math works?

I’m still catching up with him, and probably will be for a long time. RIP

Also while we were gone, Banda El Recodo became the first banda to play on Spanish TV. If I’m surprised they hadn’t done so already, does that reveal my cultural chauvinism? This is just more evidence that the term “Latin music” makes absolutely no sense as a genre, because it tells us nothing useful about the music in question, what it sounds like, or who listens to it. Surely somewhere in the world, someone is lumping together Wiley and George Jones as “English music” — but that doesn’t make the idea any less nonsense.


Put on your corrido-writing pants, it’s time for an update on El Chapo!

But the music production and distribution business has changed dramatically since El Chapo’s last escape [in 2001] — meaning times have changed on the narco-corrido front, as well. Forget six months; within six hours, bands and singers had rushed songs of El Chapo’s second escape onto YouTube and FaceBook. By Sunday afternoon, bands were recording their just-written Chapo tunes in the studio, playing the songs in front of enthusiastic live audiences and releasing elaborate videos with news coverage interspersed with dramatic reenactments of the tunnel escape.

Here are Los Alegres del Barranco:

These corridos are mostly gleeful, because El Chapo is now even LARGER than larger than life, and because of the Mexican government’s uncanny resemblance to Keystone Cops.

This musical expression points bluntly to collusion and to Mexico’s failure to run a government of law and order.

As many analysts have pointed out, the escape is a major embarrassment for President Enrique Peña Nieto, who in an interview with Univision after El Chapo was captured, said that allowing another escape would be “unforgivable.”

There’s also a Frontline documentary on El Chapo, if you’re so inclined, and Cartel Land, a documentary about the autodefensas and their less defensible U.S. counterparts, the border yahoos militias. NorteñoBlog has seen neither, but I’ll report back.


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