Sailer mentioned narcocorridos and it reminded me of the episode in Breaking Bad which began with a Mexican band singing about the mysterious gringo Heisenberg and the blue meth he had been distributing around the U.S. Southwest.
Narcocorridos has been compared to American gangsta rap though the Mexican genre is heavier on folk mythology and populism:
“Traditional corridos were almost a news or editorial ballad sung about the heroic exploits of common people, and about injustices,” Mark Edberg, an anthropologist who studies the music, told Al Jazeera. “Banditry, even violence, was often woven in with populist themes. That aspect of corridos is just not there when they become soundtracks for public violence.”
Keeping the populist tradition alive, murals on the wall depict Emiliano Zapata, a moustached anarchist hero of the Mexican revolution from 1910-1920, swigging from a bottle of beer with a sultry lady draped across his shoulders. Large red pick-up trucks are parked outside the club and patrons are carefully frisked upon entry.
Mexican revolutionaries Zapata and Pancho Villa were influential to the corridos genre and it shows the appeal of the bandit that seems to have helped the cartels and narcotraficantes maintain their strength amid fear and respect:
The ballads have deep roots; Mexicans have been singing about drug runners since the 1930s. But the new wave of narcocorrido is more gruesome than ever, and it portrays the drug lord as a hard-partying, daredevil Robin hood fighting a corrupt system.
Eric Hobsbawm, the Marxist theorist, developed the social bandit theory
which sought to investigate the existence of these Robin Hood figures:
The point about social bandits is that they are peasant outlaws whom the lord and state regard as criminals, but who remain within peasant society, and are considered by their people as heroes, as champions, avengers, fighters for justice, perhaps even leaders of liberation, and in any case as men to be admired, helped and supported. This relation between the ordinary peasant and the rebel, outlaw and robber is what makes social banditry interesting and significant … Social banditry of this kind is one of the most universal social phenomena known to history.
With the focus and comparison of the narcocorrido
to gangsta rap, most profiles and analyses have missed the parallels to the Mafia ballads from Italy. A 2002 article from the New York Times
hits on the similarities between narcocorridos
and a 100-plus year-old genre out of the Calabrian area of southern Italy that celebrates the local Mafia and the traditions and values of the region:
Perhaps the closest comparisons to the music are the narco-corridos of Mexico, ballads that recount the way of life of drug smugglers. But unlike the popular narco-corridos, Il Canto di Malavita depicts a waning way of life. As the newer generation of more ruthless Mafia members, focused on the international drug trade, has killed off (sometimes literally) and made redundant the old mafia, the tradition of the music, and the code of behavior espoused in the lyrics, has been dying along with the ‘Ndrangheta way of life itself. And though it may seem odd to hear old-line Mafia members decrying the criminality and lack of values of today’s more modern criminals, this is exactly the case.
These two regions particular struggles for political independence has helped fuel the rebellious spirit displayed through the music. Southern Italy and northern Mexico are the areas of bandits and outlaws and the areas are full of folklore and celebration. The Italian analogue to Pancho Villa and Zapata is and Carmine Crocco
and Brigandage in the Two Sicilies
and Salvatore Giuliano
who operated in the 20th century.
Mural of the Portella della Ginestra masacre, Sicily. Note the cactus.