In El Paso's wake, a corrido honors the dead and points fingers at the villains

August Brown, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

In past decades, the rise of narcocorridos -- songs about the outlaw violence of the drug trade -- gave a dark twist to the form. Bands like Los Tigres del Norte used the style to revel in, critique and mock cartel culture, in much the way gangsta rappers grappled with the allure and peril of their trade.

The 2014 killings of 43 students in the Mexican state of Guerrero, however, underlined the genre's potency as a way to protest the unthinkable in the social media era. Hundreds of songs, like "Ayotzinapa 43" from Chicago's Jose Luis Carrisoza Jr. and his father, Jose Luis Carrisoza Sr., flooded YouTube as impromptu memorials and calls to action.

The El Paso massacre likely will be a similar historic tragedy for Mexican and Chicano songwriters to document.

The accused El Paso gunman, Patrick Crusius, confessed to the killing and said he intended to target Mexicans. Eight of the 22 victims were Mexican nationals, and many of the dead had Latino surnames. Authorities said he posted a racist screed shortly before the attacks that echoed President Trump's rhetoric about an invasion of Latinos over the U.S. border.

Sadly, the El Paso shooting evoked many of the themes of corridos -- tragedy, heroism, national identity and conflict at the U.S.-Mexico border. It's no surprise that, in the wake of such loss and racial strife, songwriters are already turning to the form to make sense of it, and name who they think is to blame for it.

"This has been a way for Mexican people to react to Trump over the last few years, and all his obnoxious, insulting, hateful rhetoric. It's a way to put that whole thing into perspective," Loza said. "I wouldn't be surprised to see Trump's name or the name of the 1/8alleged3/8 killer come up" in future corridos.

Border towns like El Paso (next door to Ciudad Juarez, Mexico) play a huge role in corrido tradition. Texas border culture has inspired some of the best-known corridos, such as songs about Juan Nepomuceno Cortina (who shot a U.S. marshal for abusing a servant) and Gregorio Cortez (who killed a U.S. sheriff after an unjust arrest).

For years, groups of son jarrocho musicians have gathered at the Tijuana border wall to perform together from opposite sides. In 2018, Grammy-winning Latin jazz composer Arturo O'Farrill brought a cross-cultural orchestra to the border to record an album, "Fandango at the Wall."


In Puerto Rico, reggaeton and Latin trap artists like Bad Bunny, iLe and Residente were at the front lines of protests against the U.S. territory's governor, Ricardo A. Rossello, leading to his resignation.

Latin America has a 500-year-old history of using music to document and resist racist oppression and violence. After the tragedy at El Paso, expect to see much more of it.

"When something like this happens, people won't forget about it, they will make it part of their culture," Loza said. "All of this stuff around the wall, immigration and the massacre is instigating major musical expression. This music will pay homage to heroes and it will name villains."

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