Violence and Mexican music go hand in hand like tequila and lime. In hopes of furthering cross-cultural understanding, we offer seven significant songs in the Mexican matanza canon, along with the artist who sang the best version and the album on which you can listen to the track. And remember, even though Cinco de Mayo has already passed, in Mexican music, every day is Day of the Dead!
"Lamberto Quintero," Antonio Aguilar, Antonio Aguilar con Tambora. Few songs better illustrate the rancho-journalism power of the corrido than this song, which details a real-life murder-revenge massacre in a Sinaloa hospital during the 1970s. Many groups have covered the song some even include hokey machine-gun-fire sound effects but the definitive version remains ranchera icon Antonio Aguilar's take backed by the mighty brass and drum thuds of tamborazo.
"Contrabanda y Traición," Los Tigres del Norte, 16 Super Exitos. The narcocorrido a song glorifying drug culture has been part of the Mexican canon since the days of "La Cucaracha," but "Contrabanda y Traición" ("Contraband and Treachery") popularized the genre. It's easy to understand why: Under a metronomic bass and cheery accordion wheezes, norteño legends Los Tigres del Norte spin a tale of marijuana stuffed in tires, a murderous woman and the specter of a sequel (Los Tigres would record two more in this saga). Extra points for mentioning San Clemente!
"Delgadina," Dueto América, Mexicanisimo. Dad thinks his daughter is hot. Dad makes move on daughter. Daughter says no. Dad orders daughter locked in a room with no access to food or water. Daughter dies. Dad rots in hell. It's a universal folk tale, one that's existed in the Hispanic world as the story of Delgadina for centuries along the United States-Mexico border. Heard through the sparkling voices and arpeggios of brother-and-sister group Dueto América, however, you'd think "La Delgadina" is a song of love. Those sneaky Mexicans.
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Anything by Chalino Sanchez. No discussion of violence in Mexican music is complete without mentioning Chalino Sanchez. This Sinaloan immigrant became the Tupac of Mexican music after his brutal execution in 1995 by the side of a road. The man went everywhere with a .38 pistol he once even shot a man from the stage and his celebration of valientes (men of honor who enforced it with bullets) continues to influence Mexican music even a decade after his death.
"Alarmala de Tos," Café Tacuba, Avalancha de Exitos. A dad who tries to rape his hunchbacked daughter can't get more telenovela than that! But this is only the beginning of an operatic masterpiece, written by rock en español pioneers Botellitas de Jerez and transformed into a baroque jewel by Café Tacuba. The highlight of los tacubos' take is the scene in which they describe the brutal death-by-cop of the song's heroine, Lola: suddenly, the electro-pop drops and switches into a dirge that almost sounds like Pachelbel's Canon in D. Never has murder sounded so lush except Pagliacci, of course.
"Rosita Alvírez," Sparx, Cantan Corridos. In a culture that boasts many songs detailing the deaths of women who dared stand up to men, none is more famous than this one. Rosita goes to a dance despite her mother's wishes. There, a man named Hipolito asks Rosita to dance. She refuses; he pulls out a gun and shoots her three times dead. All the great Mexican artists have recorded "Rosita Alvírez," but the girl group Sparx's version is delicious for its harmonies and blissful ignorance of irony.
"Las Tres Tumbas," Los Cadetes de Linares, Corridos Famosos. The title says it all the three tombs. A father warns his sons to "protect your skin/because life ends" before they visit a party where their enemies kill los hermanos en masse. Los Cadetes de Linares originally recorded the song, and it proved so popular that it spawned a movie, a sequel song and a sequel to the sequel. Also noteworthy by Los Cadetes is "Pistoleros Famosos" ("Famous Gunslingers"), a lament to the dozens of valientes murdered over the years and the recitation of each man's death. Fun to dance to!