Narcocorridos, or songs that describe in graphic detail Mexico’s drug wars, have been a part of Mexican regional music for decades. But they’re finding big commercial success here in the United States thanks to a new generation of bilingual American-born artists like 16-year-old Cheyo Carrillo. His family has roots in Sinaloa, Mexico but he was born and raised in Los Angeles.
“I think that everyone deep down inside should have a piece of their culture. I’m proud of being American but my family, we’re Mexicanos,” Cheyo told Fusion from a recording studio in Burbank, CA.
Cheyo is the youngest singer at Twiins Music Group, the record label that popularized narcocorridos in the United States. Based in both California and Mexico, it was founded by brothers Adolfo and Omar Valenzuela, who changed the style and sound of narcocorridos.
“[It’s] heritage, rhythm, music, power, empowerment,” said Adolfo Valenzuela. “The young people are cruising to the music. Our audience starts at about 12-13 years old.”
But narcocorridos have come under fire. Critics say the lyrics are odes to violent crime, glorifying drug lords like “El Chapo” Guzman.
“We’re just musicians, we tell a story,” said Cheyo.
In Cheyo’s newest song “Ni Tan Mini, Ni Tan Chico,” the character he sings about refers to the now-imprisoned leader of the Sinaloa Cartel as his godfather.
“It’s nothing like I’m in contact with them. We’re reporters but through music. A storyteller through my music,” said Cheyo.
The next challenge is making this music mainstream. Valenzuela says that his label is working on making the lyrics bilingual and collaborating with rappers like Snoop Lion.
“What is Mexican, these corridos, it’s always going to be here. It’s never going to go,” said Cheyo.
CREDIT: Bradley Blackburn and Joanna Suarez