NARCOCORRIDO: A Journey into the Music of Drugs, Guns, Guerrillas

Elijah Wald, Author . HarperCollins/Rayo $24 (352p) ISBN 978-0-06-621024-7

Guitar in hand, journalist and musician Wald (Josh White: Society Blues) takes a yearlong journey through Mexico and the southwestern U.S. tracking down composers and performers of the narcocorrido, a modern spinoff of the 19th-century Mexican folk ballad (corrido) that combines the traditional accompaniment of accordion and 12-string guitar (bajo sexto) with markedly current lyrics. Gone are the old "song stories" celebrating heroic generals and lost battles of the Mexican revolution. Narcocorridos romanticize the drug trade—the botched smugglings, fallen kingpins and dishonorable police. Wald interviews dozens of key players, from Angel Gonzalez, whose 1972 "Contrabando y Traición" ("Smuggling and Betrayal") is credited with launching the narco-trend, to the Rivera family, whose popular Los Angeles record label releases "songs that are notable for their lack of social consciousness, their willingness to push the limits of acceptability and baldly cash in on the most violent and nasty aspects of the drug trade." The style has become hugely popular in L.A. and northwestern Mexico and has spawned a narcoculture marked by cowboy hats, sports suits and gold chains. Unfortunately, Wald's narrow, first-person account reads like a travel journal, blithely moving from subject to subject, ignoring historical context. He glosses over the U.S. and Mexican governments' antidrug military campaigns, which disrupted the lives of many innocent civilians. Wald may think the history of U.S.-Mexican drug trafficking has been sufficiently recounted elsewhere, but explaining the narcocorrido without this background is like writing a history of the American protest song without discussing Vietnam. B&w photos not seen by PW. (Oct. 1)

Reviewed on: 09/17/2001
Release date: 11/01/2001
Paperback - 368 pages - 978-0-06-050510-3
Ebook - 368 pages - 978-0-06-201859-5
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