'Narcocorridos': El Chapo's jailbreak inspires new round of folk songs

Escapee 'El Chapo' gets his own song
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Story highlights

  • Musicians add to growing catalog of narcocorridos about Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman
  • Hours after Guzman's jailbreak, Ariel Nuno sings, "The Escape of El Chapo, 'Money Talks'"
  • Some communities in Mexico ban narcocorridos because they incite violence

Bakersfield, California (CNN)It took 17 months for drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman to escape from Mexico's most secure prison.

It took four hours, at most, for new folk songs to be written about his latest jailbreak.
After hearing the news of Guzman's second prison escape in 14 years, musician Ariel Nuno couldn't sleep without composing a new ballad, adding to a growing catalog of Spanish-language folk music about Guzman and his exploits.
    These musical tributes are called corridos, and they are poetic storytelling told by troubadours tring-tring-tringing on their guitars, preferably acoustic.
    Nuno composed the new corrido in four hours and then posted it on YouTube, where a search on corridos about Guzman shows 11,900 uploads this month alone. Captured by police last year, Guzman escaped July 11.
    "We took advantage of the news because I love writing that type of corrido," Nuno said, referring to narcotraffickers as subject matter.
    With rhythms evoking a waltz or polka, a corrido narrates the tale of heroes, revolutions, epics, love, and loss. The music extends back to the 1800s in Mexico when the story-song entertained, informed, and mythologized.
    When it comes to Guzman and his ilk, however, the ballads are called "narcocorridos," a subgenre dedicated to cartels and their narco-violence.

    Banned in some parts of Mexico

    The musicians and the narcotraffickers enjoy a symbiotic relationship. The singers get big audiences and ticket revenues, and the narcos get fame, say Nuno and other musicians interviewed by CNN en Español.
    Narcocorrido concerts in Mexico have incited shootings. This year, narcocorrido musician Javier Arturo Rosas was critically wounded in a shooting in Culiacan, Sinaloa, that was believed to have been ordered by narcotraffickers because his sang about rivals, according to the Guardian. The shooting left two other people dead.
    Because of this violence, many local governments in Mexico such as Sinaloa state have banned narcocorridos from being sung in bars, restaurants and night clubs, which could lose their business license if they violate the restriction.

    Serious genre with serious money

    Still, corridos and narcocorridos are serious business for serious musicians with big bands: Two days after Guzman's escape, Billboard reported that Lupillo Rivera, brother of the late singer/songwriter Jenni Rivera, uploaded a new ballad about the drug kingpin's getaway.
    The magazine listed the new song as among 10 significant narcocorridos about Guzman in recent years, including one by Gerardo Ortiz, regarded as the king of corridos.
    The scale of 'El Chapo's' escape tunnel
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    Ortiz's treatment of Guzman under "El Primer Ministro," or "Prime Minister," enjoys more than 1.5 million views on YouTube.
    Despite the huge audiences, a balladeer dabbles in the subgenre at his or her own peril.
    Nuno admits walking a fine line to avoid potential retaliation by drug lords or their henchmen who may dislike his lyrics.
    "I called them light corridos: They don't give too much information where I can get into problems," Nuno said.

    Money talks...and El Chapo walks

    The title of Nuno's latest piece is "La Fuga Del Chapo 'Con Dinero Baila El Perro.'"
    That loosely translates as "The Escape of El Chapo, 'Money Talks.'"
    Perhaps a liberal translator would add: "And El Chapo Walks."
    More precisely, El Chapo (a diminutive phrasing for "Shorty") escaped through tunnels apparently dug for him underneath the prison.
    As of late this week, Nuno's newest ballad garnered 160,000 views on YouTube.
    That's a far cry from his earlier ballad about Guzman's capture in 2014, "La Captura Del Chapo (Sera Verdad?)," which received more than 2 million views on YouTube.
    That title now seems prescient: "The Capture of El Chapo (Will It Be Real?)"
    For purposes of comparison, the most popular corrido about Guzman's second escape collected more than 473,000 views on YouTube as of late this week.

    El Chapo 'is a terrible criminal'

    As impressive as those numbers may be for songwriters, not everyone tunes in to a ditty about a murderous drug lord.
    Guzman ought not be glorified nor mythologized, according to law authorities and others who studied Guzman's multibillion-dollar global drug ring.
    "People say it was epic, the escape was epic. It's amazing. It's incredible, like El Chapo was a hero.... It's not true. This guy is a terrible criminal," said Mexican investigative journalist Annabel Hernandez, who has written about cartels in the book "Narcoland: The Mexican Drug Lords and Their Godfathers" and has been the target of death threats.
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    Indeed, some narcocorridos portray Guzman as a Robin Hood figure who rose from poverty.
    Nuno acknowledges the controversy over such celebratory corridos. When asked about how Guzman's narcoviolence hurts people, Nuno stated: "I don't know about that. I know he helps a lot of people."
    Nuno added that his song avoids creating celebrity.
    "One thing has nothing to do with the other, honestly," he said. "I don't relate them."
    Rather, the 28-year-old musician from Jalisco, Mexico, chronicles what becomes of the cartel leader. Nuno now lives in Fresno, California.
    "There's a lot of serious journalists with a lot of prestige, and they do stories every day (about Guzman). Then I say, why can't I?" Nuno said. "But I sing it, and that's what people want to hear. And it's not like the words of the song say something bad."

    Adrenaline of narcocorrido concert

    Audiences love a well-composed narcocorrido that tells an entertaining story.
    Nuno enjoys telling it.
    "When I sing those types of corridos, I like them because of the adrenaline," Nuno said. "The people like them, and I am one of those type of people that say, give the people what they ask for."
    In fact, the opening verses of Nuno's new song speaks to how money can buy just about anything and how Guzman tells his new prison guards that he will be leaving them soon enough:
    "Mirando uno con el otro se reian. Tal vez de mi, se burlaban. Tal vez se reian de nervios. O tal vez en mis palabras nunca creyeron."
    Translation: "Looking at one another, they laughed. Perhaps they mocked me. Perhaps they laughed nervously. Or perhaps they never believed my words."
    If the song adds to Guzman's mythology, perhaps it's to El Chapo's legendary elusiveness.
    "It talks about that even though he was behind bars, he had the power to escape," Nuno said.