Narcocorrido: Un Viaje Dentro de la Musica de Drogas, Armas, y Guerrillerosby Elijah Wald
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No existe tradiciÓn mÁs mexicana que la de los corridos, las herÓicas baladas que celebran a los de abajo -- a los fugitivos y pistoleros. Al igual que las baladas de Robin Hood o de Jesse James, los corridos han sido para los pobres una manera de enaltecer a sus hÉroes. Los corridos siguen, pero sus hÉroes han cambiado: ahora son cÉlebres los narcotraficantes. Elijah Wald cuenta la fascinante historia de esta nueva versiÓn de una vieja tradiciÓn: la de los narcocorridos. Traza el desarrollo de los corridos desde sus orÍgenes en el indÓmito Oeste hasta su mÁs reciente encarnaciÓn en la costa del mar PacÍfico, la cuna del trÁfico de drogas mexicano. Sigue su expansiÓn hasta Los Angeles, donde los corridos son la voz de la juventud actual de los barrios latinos, y hasta los estados de MichoacÁn y Guerrero, donde canciones sobre narcopistoleros coinciden con baladas sobre los guerrilleros en las montaÑas. Wald viaja a la Ciudad de MÉxico para encontrarse con el juglar viajero de la rebeliÓn zapatista, y continÚa hasta Cuernavaca para encontrarse con Teodoro Bello, el genio iletrado que se ha convertido en el compositor de mayor Éxito en la historia de MÉxico. Discursivo, vÍvido y perspicaz, Narcocorridos descubre una tradiciÓn musical llena de vitalidad mostrando de manera fascinante el lugar que ocupa el narcotrÁfico en la cultura mexicana.
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The Father of Camelia
I was hitching out of Ciudad Cuauhtémoc when the police pulled over. It was 3:00 in the afternoon, the rain had just stopped, there was no bus, and I had an appointment in two hours with Ángel González, the father of the narcocorrido.
There were two policemen, driving in a pickup truck, and they started with the usual questions: Where was I going, how long had I been in Mexico, could they see my papers. They kept me a couple of extra minutes, calling my description in to headquarters, because a Mexican had recently been robbed by a gringo. Then they drove off, only to return some ten minutes later. I still had not gotten a ride, and was beginning to worry that I would be late for my appointment, so I was mildly irritated when they said that they would have to keep me there for a while until the victim could be brought to look at me. From my occasional experiences with Mexican police, I expected a long wait.
But no. It was not five minutes before another pickup pulled up, with two more policemen and a guy with dirty blond, shoulder-length hair, a limp mustache, and a really impressive black eye. The truck had barely stopped when the longhaired guy leapt out, pointing at me and yelling: "That's him! That's the cabrón who robbed me! He's cut his hair, but that's him!"
In an instant, I was slammed face-forward against the first pickup, with hands all over me. Someone waspatting me for weapons, two others were pulling my arms down to handcuff me, while the fourth was shouting, "Keep your hands up!" I was trying to remain calm, repeating, "I can prove I just got to town. I was in Chihuahua this morning." No one was listening to me, but the victim seemed to be having second thoughts. He pulled up my sleeves, looking for track marks, and when he could not find any he began yelling that no, I was not the guy. By now, though, the cops were having fun. They had opened my pack and were asking the victim if the cassettes I had were his. He said no. Then they found my small stash of dollars a couple of twenties, a ten, and some ones.
"Is this your money?" they asked the victim.
"No, mine was all hundred-dollar bills."
That was pretty much the end of it. The police removed the handcuffs, murmured an apology, and drove off, and I caught a ride out toward Basuchil. I did not feel like asking what business the longhaired guy was in.
In 1972, a new record swept Mexico. It featured a bunch of unknown teenagers called Los Tigres del Norte, who sang with the raw, country twang of the western Sierra Madre, backed by a stripped-down, accordion-powered polka beat, and it had a lyric unlike anything else on the radio. Called "Contrabando y Traición" (Smuggling and Betrayal), it told the story of a pair of lovers on a business trip:
Salieron de San Ysidro, procedentes de Tijuana,
Traían las llantas del carro repletas de hierba mala,
Eran Emilio Varela y Camelia la tejana.
(They left San Ysidro [a California border town], coming from
They had their car tires stuffed full of "bad grass" [marijuana],
They were Emilio Varela and Camelia the Texan.)
The couple make it safely across the border, are briefly stopped and questioned by immigration authorities in San Clemente, but pass without any problem and drive on to Los Angeles. Arriving in Hollywood, they meet their connection in a dim alleyway, change the tires, and get their money. Then Emilio gives Camelia her share and announces that with this money she can make a new start, but as for him, he is going up to San Francisco with "la dueña de mi vida," the woman who owns his life. Camelia, who has already been described as "a female with plenty of heart," does not take this farewell with good grace:
Sonaron siete balazos, Camelia a Emilio mataba,
La policía solo halló una pistola tirada,
Del dinero y de Camelia nunca más se supo nada.
(Seven shots rang out, Camelia killed Emilio,
The police only found the discarded pistol,
Of the money and Camelia nothing more was ever known.)
"Contrabando y Traición" was not the first corrido about the crossborder drug traffic. There had been ballads of border smuggling since the late nineteenth century, when import duties made it profitable to carry loads of undeclared textiles south to Mexico and a Mexican government monopoly tempted freelancers to sell homemade candle wax to North Americans without going through official channels. The smuggling business really took off, though, with the imposition of the Eighteenth Amendment, which prohibited the sale of alcoholic beverages in the United States. Prohibition was a terrific boon to border commerce. Tequileros swam the Rio Grande pushing rafts full of booze, drove trucks across desert crossing points, or used boats to cruise up the coast.
When Prohibition ended in 1933, the tequileros turned to other products. (They were not alone; the Prohibition-era gangster Lucky Luciano also went on to smuggle Mexican heroin.) One year later, on October 13, 1934, what seems to be the first narcocorrido was recorded in San Antonio, Texas. Written by Juan Gaytan, of the duo Gaytan y Cantú, it was called "El Contrabandista" and told of a smuggler who has fallen into the clutches of the Texas lawmen after switching over from liquor to other illegal inebriants:
Comencí a vender champán, tequila y vino habanero,
Pero este yo no sabía lo que sufre un prisionero.
Muy Pronto compré automóvil, propiedad con residencia,
Sin saber que en poco tiempo iba a ir a la penitencia.
Por vender la cocaína, la morfina y mariguana,
Me llevaron prisionero a las dos de la mañana.
(I began selling champagne, tequila, and Havana wine,
Narcocorrido. Copyright © by Elijah Wald. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Meet the Author
Elijah Waldis a writer and musician whose books include Escaping the Delta: Robert Johnson and the Invention of the Blues and How the Beatles Destroyed Rock ’n’ Roll: An Alternative History of American Popular Music. A respected expert on the folk revival, he collaborated with Dave Van Ronk on The Mayor of MacDougal Street, the inspiration for the Coen Brothers’ film Inside Llewyn Davis. His awards include a 2002 Grammy, and he has taught blues history at UCLA and lectured widely on American, Mexican, and world music. He currently lives in Medford, Massachusetts.
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