Narcocorrido: A Journey into the Music of Drugs, Guns, and Guerrillas

Elijah Wald

Phases and Stages

Narcocorrido: A Journey into the Music of Drugs, Guns, and Guerrillas

By Elijah Wald

Rayo, 333pp., $24 How to document history is a source of debate among scholars and critics. Is it best to sidle up to a subject and get the goods from the horse's mouth or to report on a subject from a distance objectively? And what of biographers like Edmund Morris, who embellish their narratives with their imagination? In Narcocorrido: A Journey Into the Music of Drugs, Guns, and Guerrillas, Elijah Wald uses all three approaches, creating a highly readable work. His book's title is taken from the Mexican "corrido," a traditional ballad that tells of heroic events or individuals, and in this case modernized with lyrics about narcotics traffickers and drug culture, hence "narcocorrido." Los Tigres del Norte may be the most well-known band to play narcocorridos, but they're also prevalent in northern Mexico, urban California, and in low-budget recordings sold at flea markets and other various non-mainstream venues. A longtime writer of roots and world beat music, Wald offers a travel narrative of narcocorrido sources, traveling from Sinaloa, Mexico, to Los Angeles and parts in between, searching out musicians and other insiders for their personal histories and insight. Wald's enthusiasm for the subject is clear. Still, Narcocorrido is missing something. While comparisons to gangsta rap aren't surprising, the discussion is thin. Also, why not interview drug dealers -- some who reportedly commissioned corridos to document their deeds -- or narcocorrido fans for a rounded view of the subject? One of the problems with reading a book about music is that you don't get to hear the music. Fortunately, Wald offers artist names and album titles, and a CD with selections from the book is available from Fonovisa. Even if not entirely thorough, Wald is an engaging writer, and Narcocorrido is a must-have for those wanting an introduction to the genre.

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