Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Banning narcocorridos

Sinaloa Gov. Mario López Valdez has introduced a reform to ban narcocorridos in his state, a state where corridos are hugely popular among the young and old, and which sometimes, and I emphasize sometimes, highlight the exploits of criminal elements like El Chapo Guzman.

Under the new law, establishments who allow narcocorridos to be played or performed by bands will lose their licenses.

This isn't the first time the authorities have sought to ban narcocorridos in Mexico. According to Sinaloan writer Elihah Wald, who has researched narcocorridos extensively and written at least one book about them, there have been calls for censorship of corridos associated with drug trafficking or the crime world ever since Los Tigres del Norte hit with 'Contrabando y Traición' and 'La Banda del Carro Rojo' in the 1970s.

Calls to ban narcocorridos have "intensified in recent years," according to Wald. On his web site, (link in title of post) he lists the many attempts to crack down on this brand of music. He also expresses some interesting opinions on the crackdowns. Some of them I agree with.

The authorities are sorely misled if they believe that narcocorridos are in any way related to the deep-rooted issues they apparently don't want to address. Narcocorridos do not turn young people into narcos, they simply celebrate rebellion and people who make a living in a world where the government and ordinary business don't allow them to operate or succeed. Banning the songs won't make the kids think of getting an education or a job; providing them with genuine opportunities and jobs will. The Sinaloan government is wasting its time in this moral battle, when it could be trying to think up positive ways to improve Sinaloan society, the economy, education, etc etc.

The Sinaloan government is also taking a risk with its ban on narcocorridos. It is outlawing one of the few freedoms of expression young people have, essentially a way of voicing their discontent with their situation without actually resorting to violence or crime. Take that away from them, what will they be left with? Nothing.

Lastly, banning narcocorridos is a mistake because many narcocorridos are often not just odes to crime bosses, but to the people, to the reality of what is happening around them. In many parts of Sinaloa, bands perform tributes to the deceased; they write and sing about what is happening around them, as journalists do. Take Omar Meza, for instance, a local from Badiraguato who I met a few years ago while there researching The Last Narco. Omar sings about what's going on around him. He doesn't really glorify the narcos, but he sometimes does mention them in his tunes, because they are involved in the events occurring.

Here's one of his corridos, or ballads. Will the authorities decide to ban this one, because it talks about them in a bad light?

‘Tragedy in Santiago de los Caballeros’ by Omar 'El Comandante' Meza

People of Badiraguato, the blood flows again
For the four lives who couldn’t defend themselves
Their families and friends couldn’t believe it
They were heading to a party when the soldiers came out of nowhere
Without any motive they fired their rifles
And how surprised were they the men were unarmed
Sinaloa is in mourning for this situation
La Joya de los Martinez already lived the same terror
Reckless soldiers
more dangerous than a lion
Assassins through error, there will be a simple repercussion
These are published news stories on the radio and in print
All we ask for is justice assassins without conscience
This is your farewell
goodbye Geovany my friend
because that’s how he wanted your destiny to be
Grandmother, mother and brothers never forget that I love you
And that I’ll protect you when I find myself in heaven
I will continue on the path of my father and my grandfather

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