Composition of Narcocorridos in Real Time: Sociomusical Construction of October 17th, the Culiacanazo

Reception: April 29, 2020

Acceptance: December 14, 2020


The aim of the article is to understand the sociomusical processes and practices of the northern ensemble Arte Norte in the creation of the corrido "Ovidio Guzmán, el Rescate". The corrido recounts the violent events of October 17, 2019, following the failed capture of Ovidio Guzmán in Culiacán, Sinaloa. We interviewed the composers and musicians to delve deeper into the experiences and the construction of musical meaning on the culiacanazo. We present the results in three sections: the musicians' experiences, sources of inspiration and motivations for composing the corrido; we present the strategies and immediacy of their composition and dissemination practices; finally, we address the context, warnings and risk management on the part of the musicians.

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Composition of Narcocorridos in Real Time: Sociomusical Construction of October 17th, the Culiacanazo

The aim of this article is to understand the socio-musical processes and practices of the northern band Arte Norte in the creation of the corrido 'Ovidio Guzmán, el Rescate'. This song narrates the violent events of October 17th, 2019 after the unsuccessful arrest of Ovidio Guzmán, in Culiacán, Sinaloa. We interviewed the composers and musicians in order to delve into the experiences and the creation of musical sense regarding the culiacanazo. We present the results in three sections: we approach the experiences of the musicians, their sources of inspiration and motivations to create the corrido; we present the strategies and the immediacy of their composition and promotion practices; we finally present the context, warnings and the management of risks by the musicians.

Keywords: narcocorridosdrug trafficking, violence, culiacanazomusical

What was experienced on October 17, 2019 in Culiacán was an overflowing and unprecedented event. The culiacanazo or "Black Thursday" refers to the failed official operation to capture Ovidio Guzmán López, son of Joaquín Guzmán Loera (el Chapo Guzmán), as well as to the violence experienced by a defenseless civilian population, trapped in the clashes between organized crime and the authorities, which was violated so that the State would release Ovidio Guzmán (Buscaglia, in Reyes, 2019). On that day, Culiacán was described as "a war zone for shootings" (El Sol de Sinaloa, 2019a). Santamaría (2019) documents that crime mobilized its structures and demonstrated its power to use force. Images and videos circulated in social networks in which it is possible to trace the affectations to civilians and damages to the city (Vivanco, 2019) due to the shootings in neuralgic points of Culiacán: the urban development Tres Ríos; the center of the city; the intersections of Boulevard Sánchez Alonzo and Doctor Enrique Cabrera; in Álvaro Obregón Avenue and Universitarios Street and in the military barracks Novena Zona (Ninth Zone).

Images from October 17, 2019 in Culiacán, Sinaloa. Photographs courtesy of Luis Magaña, El Debate.
Images from October 17, 2019 in Culiacán, Sinaloa. Photographs courtesy of Luis Magaña, El Debate.
Images from October 17, 2019 in Culiacán, Sinaloa. Photographs courtesy of Luis Magaña, El Debate.
Images from October 17, 2019 in Culiacán, Sinaloa. Photographs courtesy of Luis Magaña, El Debate.

Videos that circulated on October 17, 2019 via WhatsApp and social networks, used to report on the events (El Sol de Sinaloa, 2019a; Proceso, 2019; RíoDoce, 2019).

Audiovisual materials captured the experience of people running and taking shelter in the midst of the scuffles: children in school uniforms accompanied by their parents on the ground, among vehicles in the midst of the chaos; women with children in their arms running for help; people lying on the ground in restaurants and educational institutions. There were those who spent the night in department stores and civilian homes (Olazábal, 2019). In other videos, the streets of Culiacán looked desolate. Commerce was paralyzed, hotels, department stores and the airport were closed; public and private transportation services were suspended (El Sol de Sinaloa, 2019b).

On October 30, 2019, the Ministry of National Defense issued an official report on the operation and the events that occurred on October 17. According to the official discourse, the operation and the cessation of violence lasted from approximately 14:50 to 20:00 hrs. Six points of conflict were identified with clashes between the military and organized crime; there were eight deaths and 19 wounded.

Excerpt from the Report on the Operation in Culiacán. Conference by President AMLO (López Obrador, 2019).

The culiacanazo can be understood as a web of "hybrid violence" (Jiménez, 2018). Although the official discourse focuses on the visible effects of the confrontation between organized crime and the State - the material damage, economic losses, deaths and injuries -, it is clear that the official discourse focuses on the visible effects of the confrontation between organized crime and the State - the material damage, economic losses, deaths and injuries, the culiacanazo makes visible other forms of transgression rooted in everyday life, such as fear and insecurity (Reyes-Sosa, Larrañaga and Valencia, 2015); the acceptance and proximity to drug trafficking (Moreno and Flores, 2015); the trivialization of violence and social inequality (Moreno, Burgos and Valdez, 2016); life expectations and the legitimization of narcoculture (Mondaca, 2012; Sánchez, 2009); juvenicides (Valenzuela, 2012); corruption and weakness of authorities in the fight against drug trafficking (Astorga, 2015); harm, impunity and invisibilization of victims (Ovalle, 2010).

From a psychosocial perspective, we recognize that it is important to understand the processes, forms of everyday thinking through discourse, experiences and interpretations of violence from the experiences and sociohistorical context of people (Domènech and Íñiguez-Rueda, 2002; Uribe, 2004). As suggested by Valenzuela, Burgos, Moreno and Mondaca (2017), there can be a cultural approach to drug trafficking from narcocorridos. For Almonacid and Burgos (2018) narcocorridos collect lived and media memories about violent events that are alternatives to the official story. They are narratives that allow "taking the pulse of the country" (Almonacid, 2016: 53). In this sense, narcocorridos can be treated as historical sources, microhistories and cultural documents (Ramírez-Pimienta, 2011). The corrido "Ovidio Guzmán. El rescate", by Arte Norte:

"Ovidio Guzman. El Rescate" composition of Arte Norte, Culiacan, Sinaloa.
It all happened suddenly, in the streets of all of Culiacan.
Assassins embedded following Ivan Guzman's order.
It was a suicide mission, the barrets were mounted on double wheels.
The order was very clear, to besiege Culiacan, they were going against the guachos.

It was made easy for them, they got into trouble with the Guzmán family.
The devil and hell itself appeared here in Culiacán.
The streets were stained red, it looked like I was in Iraq.
Chaos and a war zone could only be seen throughout the city.

People running in the streets, gunshots and screams could be heard everywhere.
The people were bewildered, also because of fear, they did not know what to do.
Nobody went out, nobody came in, the streets were besieged by the caravans.
It was the people of the Chapo and the support of El Mayo Zambada was given.

[This is Arte Norte, hey, of course it is. Puro Rober Records].

The military were worried, because their relatives threatened them.
Between the hail of bullets, there was nothing else to do, they were outnumbered.
The government was cornered, with no way out, they had to free it.
They had too many casualties and of the Chapitos kept on coming.

Everyone was watching everything, the news spread, this was worldwide.
No less was expected, they are the sons of Mr. Guzmán.
Television, radio and press everywhere they looked, everything was the same.
Everything had only one objective, to rescue Ovidio and get out of there alive.

The mission was accomplished, thanks to the plebes who gave their support.
We continued with the legacy left by my father, it was demonstrated.
The chapiza pa'delante, we continue with everything, pulling solid.
Now you know who I am, Ovidio Guzmán, I am from the chapitos.

As of culiacanazoIn the same way, composers and performers immediately sang about what had happened. They based their lyrics on impressions, feelings and experiences. Some corridos circulated rapidly on social networks and accumulated a considerable number of reproductions (The universal, 2019; The Herald of Mexico, 2019; Process, 2019b). A particular case was that of "Ovidio Guzmán. El rescate". This narcocorrido was part of the processes of musicalization, assimilation, dissemination, communication and socialization of the events of October 17. The composition had an immediate impact locally, nationally and transnationally.

The composition and immediate production of "Ovidio Guzmán. El rescate" articulates musical practices that allow us to understand a phenomenon of present history crossed by different forms of violence. Returning to Aróstegui (2004), in the approach to present history it is important to compile narratives that are produced in real time. Since the corridos of the Revolution (Mendoza, 1956), the condition of immediacy has been part of the compositional practice of corridistas, who, as part of the people and eyewitnesses, construct stories to inform and relate relevant events. This implies bringing together, in a short time, musical skills, spontaneity, improvisation and creativity; the reading and interpretation of the context where they are located, as well as "the ability to imprint a musical sense to the world" (Finnegan, 2002: 13) in a short time. According to Paredes (1986), corridos are compositions that "fly", that "run", they are stories set to music that spread quickly. Currently, when compositions are recorded and shared, they "go viral" in a short time, gaining popularity in digital media. This allows access, circulation and instant sharing of emerging narcocorridos, which translates into visibility for the group, job opportunities and economic gains.

Burgos (2016) mentions that little research has approached the experiences of narcocorrido composers. According to Avitia (1997) the composition of corridos follows a guideline marked by tradition. McDowell (1972) argues that the elaboration of corridos consists of the grouping of words through similar formulas and structures taken from other compositions. For Simonett (2008: 218-219) the composer working for a client "arranges the information in the form of octosyllabic verse, dresses it in formulas borrowed from the corrido tradition, and arranges a simple melody that is based on a simple chord progression." According to Burgos (2016: 8) it is the young groups who update the narcocorrido repertoire. The production of novel compositions allows them to increase their popularity, "faced with the inability to predict what will be successful, or where it will come from, the important thing is to maintain production in the hope of getting one right". These compositions are anchored in the contextual conditions where they are produced and disseminated.

Following Finnegan (2002: 8), it is important to analyze "the active musical processes rather than concentrating on the products (the musical works as such)". This implies observing the practices, organization, activities and dynamics of the musicians. Finnegan also suggests attending to the processes of composition, musical performance and getting to know the artists' points of view. Thus, it is expected to deepen the understanding of the context and cultural reality where music is produced (Simonett, 2011). Guided by these arguments, in this article we ask ourselves: what are the motivations and practices of composition, production and circulation of the corrido "Ovidio Guzmán. El rescate", how the lived experiences and the significance of young musicians and composers with respect to the "Ovidio Guzmán. culiacanazo are transformed into a sociomusical production? The aim of the article is to describe the practices of ideation, composition, musicalization and diffusion of the corrido "Ovidio Guzmán. El rescate". Also, to understand the processes of composition in real time and risk management in contexts of violence.

Next we will present: a) the qualitative case study as methodological positioning, the selection criteria of "Ovidio Guzmán. El rescate", the justification of Arte Norte's participation and the ways of collecting empirical information. In the results we will develop: b) the experiences and sources of inspiration for the composition of the corrido; c) the motivations, the positioning and the compositional practice in terms of immediacy; d) the risk management of musicians in contexts of violence.

Methodological note

This research is based on a qualitative case study (Martínez, 2006). This approach allows understanding social phenomena from the practices and perspectives of people situated in their own context (Stake, 1999). The case study is dynamic and involves the detailed analysis "of an example in action" (Álvarez and San Fabián, 2012: 14) to understand the activity and interaction of a particular case in specific circumstances (Stake, 1999). We focus on the experience, the construction of meanings and the valuation of the context of the Arte Norte group,1 by attending to his practices of composition, production and circulation of the corrido "Ovidio Guzmán. El rescate". This musical theme was not the only corrido that circulated on the culiacanazo. On October 17, 2019, shortly after the violent events in Culiacán, corridos were published on social networks that in a matter of hours reached thousands of reproductions. For example, the "Corrido balacera en Culiacán", by Miguel Gastelúm;2 "Balacera en Sinaloa", by Héctor Guerrero, and "Guerra en Culiacán" by R.A.R.B. (Sin Embargo, 2019). These compositions are performed by a singer accompanied by an acoustic guitar. We decided to work with Arte Norte because of the uniqueness of the case and the accessibility and availability of the musicians to collaborate in this research. Returning to Stake (1999), we selected his corrido because it is different and contains more elements that caught our attention. For example, at the local level, the composition circulated massively among contacts and WhatsApp groups. We followed its visibility in WhatsApp statuses and social networks. The number of reproductions rose rapidly, in two days it reached 700 thousand reproductions and the video was removed from the ROBErec channel on YouTube. In addition, we took into account the detail of the content, the care in the musicalization and the quality of the recording. Unlike the first compositions that went viral, "Ovidio Guzmán. El rescate" was composed, musicalized and recorded in a studio during the night of October 17, 2019 -the same day of the event-, and was released at 6:00 am on October 18, 2019. Finally, the members of Arte Norte experienced the violent events of the culiacanazo, therefore, we consider that this is a contextualized composition built from the experience of the musicians. We conducted an in-depth interview (Ginesi, 2018) with all the members of the group. It was a genuine, spontaneous, exploratory and horizontal dialogue (Pujadas, 2010). We talked about the motivations, process and practices of composition. We also explored the lived experience, knowledge and meanings about the events of October 17.

Interview with members of Arte Norte, Culiacán, Sinaloa, November 27, 2019.

A second interview took place at the closing of the course "Social Coexistence and Violence".3 Three members of Arte Norte and approximately forty university students participated. The group dynamics was carried out from the proposal of "music elicitation"(Allet, 2010). It is a form of interviewing in which listening and talking about musical content is the way to access feelings, memories, experiences and meanings built on particular events. For Allet, talking about musical content makes it possible to explore topics that are difficult to address in conventional interviews. In this group interview we first listened to the live performance and read the lyrics of the corrido. Subsequently, we encouraged a dialogue between musicians and students, who talked about their experiences on October 17, the content and value of the composition articulated to their experiences, and concerns about the process of creating the composition. From the exchange between students and musicians we generated more information about the corrido.

The experience of October 17 as a source of inspiration

The composition of narcocorridos is not generated in a social vacuum; the contents cannot be separated from the conditions of violence experienced by young people in Sinaloa. Composers construct musical narratives from their experiences and connect the social realities lived and shared by fans and artists (Negus, 2005). In the first three verses of "Ovidio Guzmán. El rescate" we find descriptions of the culiacanazo. The contents arise from direct and indirect experiences of the musicians. One of them, Pavel Frías, relates that on that day he crossed the city for work reasons; he knew what was happening, but he did not know the streets where he could not travel. On his way he passed through the area where the conflict was concentrated. We quote the experiences shared:

I had to cross the whole city. Along the way, I did see burned out pickup trucks. I had to see double trailers with barrets, as the corrido says. I had to see three dead people. So, I had to live through it. And it was quite, what is the word, "shocking". For me it was very shocking to see all that. That was what I experienced.

The first thing I saw was antecito When I got to the Humaya bridge, there by Solidaridad a truck was blocked... as I went on, well, there were trucks burning. Several streets were blocked, so I had to walk around the streets. I wanted to pass by where the Dorados Stadium is and that was the strongest part, but I didn't know that that was the strongest part.

Culiacán becomes a war zone for shootings (El Sol de Sinaloa, 2019a).
Culiacán becomes a war zone for shootings (El Sol de Sinaloa, 2019a).
Culiacán becomes a war zone for shootings (El Sol de Sinaloa, 2019a).

Pavel's experience was different from what was disseminated in the media and in the news. As other studies on narcocorridos suggest, Pavel's experience allowed access to alternative and opposing versions to the official ones (Héau and Giménez, 2004; Ramírez-Pimienta, 2011; Valenzuela, 2002). For example, Pavel told us about "bodies lying around", he mentioned that "two of the people I saw were hired killers. I say this because they were entrenched and the weapons were left there on one side... I saw a dead boy, about 14 years old or so.

For the rest of the members of Arte Norte, the experience was different. They lived it from a close distance, from the screens of their cell phones, through the immediacy that social networks allow. Everyday life was captured, shared, commented and interpreted from the screens. The materials about what happened in the streets of Culiacán generated digital forms of sociability (Lasén, 2006). That is, interaction flows, information circulation, symbolic proximity to counteract geographic distance, and intense communication through the sharing of photographs, audios, videos, texts and statuses on social network profiles. This is how the members of Arte Norte participated in these interactions:

I lived it from my phone, all the messages came to me, everything, everything came to me. The cars with guns and burning, photos and everything. From my work, I was at work, and in fact, I left early because everyone closed and we left. So, I lived it from the phone through the networks (Victor).

[Alvin] More than anything on the phone then / [Jesús Antonio] Watching the news. Victor] I was at work and all of a sudden, through the WhatsApp group they sent all the videos. A lot of videos circulated, and we knew, we already knew how things were going. In fact, they said that there was a curfew at night/[Pavel] They said that they were coming, in fact there were videos where you could see several pickup trucks arriving in Culiacán. We said: this is going to continue and who knows how long it is going to last, well, or how much more is going to happen, because there were videos of more trucks arriving.

These messages generated rumors of panic (Guevara and Martínez, 2015; Mendoza, 2016). In the citizenry they configured forms of expression and venting in a reality of overflowing violence. Cerda, Alvarado and Cerda (2013) suggest that organized crime messages spread and instill panic, terrorize and paralyze the group against which they fight, while patenting their power in society. Oseguera-Montiel (2018: 152) states that, in situations of tension, violence and extreme anxiety people are prone to create, believe and spread panic rumors. This information is not simple texts, "they present themselves as a performanceThe "violence, that is, as part of a dramatization of violence that is distinguished by its originality, its emotional and evocative intensity", are part of the context in which they occur and configure it as dangerous.

The information accessed and disseminated by the musicians are digital inscriptions (Lasén, 2019). This implies a rejection of the idea of reflection or representation of reality to assume that images, sounds and digital texts configure forms of interaction, connection, while mobilizing and articulating the production of ideas, feelings and resignification of reality. In this case, the real-time access to what was happening in the city, the interactions and dialogues based on the contents served as a source of inspiration for the composition of "Ovidio Guzmán. El rescate".

Composition strategies and assessments

It sounded like a joke from the drummer when he said "we have to record a corrido" about October 17 in Culiacán. He was referring to composing, producing and broadcasting a corrido about the events of the day, that same day, even if they ended the following day. His proposal took shape when he spoke with the person in charge of the recording studio and confirmed that the space was available. At first there was reluctance to do the composition:

I must not deny something... I was also a little bit in disagreement [with the corrido]... Because you don't know what could happen (Jesús Antonio).

I was scared, to tell you the truth. I even closed early [the place where he works] because I didn't know what was going to happen... I thought it was a joke when they said "let's record it". And then, since we have a motto here that "everybody pulls" and we all pull, we all go to the studio, I couldn't say no (Víctor).

The other members of Arte Norte joined the proposal of Alvin, the drummer, and met on October 17 at 9:00 p.m. in the recording studio; they finished recording on the 18th at 5:00 a.m. They arrived at the studio without an idea of what the corrido could be. They arrived at the studio without an idea of what the corrido could be like, they did not have the lyrics, nor a tune. In the interview, Jesús Antonio commented: "we really did it there. Once we were there in the studio, we did a single verse with the same tune. And with that we did the musical base, and while we were doing the musical base [recording the instruments], some of us composed and the one who recorded contributed ideas". According to Pavel, they agreed to do six verses. From there they began to compose the content and made the music:

There was a lot to say. It was simply a matter of accommodating what we had. And from an idea, someone would say: "no, people running in the streets", "gunshots"; we just had to complement that idea and make the verse rhyme. It was not so complicated to make the lyrics.

It has to have a beginning and an end. That is, when this, "everything happened all of a sudden". No well, how are we going to start, "everything happened all of a sudden", everything happened suddenly. Ah well, "everything happened suddenly" [beginning of the first verse]. And that's how it went. But what else, what else? No well, there were people running in the streets, people running in the streets" [beginning of the third verse], and that's how it went (Víctor).

Direct and indirect experiences were inputs for the writing. When asked where the ideas to construct the verses came from, they responded:

[Jesús Antonio] I think it was as a result of what you watched, of the same, of the material that came to you through videos, through audio. You could visualize it, you could imagine it. In the same way, the corrido became "what do you think, let's see what you think, give me your opinion" and we started to put it together. Pavel] As long as it was congruent and more than anything based on what they said, what we had heard in the news. All this, based on the news, and on what I had seen.

My mind kept going over what I had seen... In my case, I tried to say what was closest to what I had lived. So that it would be captured in the lyrics (Pavel).

We return to Malcomson (2019) to highlight that composers have agency. Their skill in the writing process is an act and a creative way of exercising power. That is, despite the conditions of risk implicit in the exercise of composing about drug trafficking and/or drug traffickers, composers create and negotiate content; they also process and transform the information they possess. Malcomson recognizes the active role of composers, as they investigate, question, contextualize, decide and position themselves based on the content of their compositions. In the interviews the musicians commented on the care and reservations they maintained at the moment of writing and deciding the final version of the composition:

We could have added more. For example, we could have added something about the inmates who escaped from the prison. We didn't include that in the lyrics. But in itself, most of the facts are there (Pavel).

According to the musicians, they wrote with restraint, distancing themselves from the detailed description of violent events.

From my point of view, it seems to me that it was already too much to add more violence to what there had already been. So, it seems to me that it would be an offense to the people (Jesús Antonio).

[Pavel] We tried not to say too many things, well [Jesus Antonio] [Things] Out of place [Pavel] Yes, there were some ideas that we said "better not, not that". At the beginning we had said that we were not going to say names or surnames, at the end of the day we said everything [Alvín] Everything was said [Pavel] We decided to put them.

Regarding the positioning of the musicians in the composition, in the fourth verse they describe the government and the military at a disadvantage and defeated. The last verse, the only one written in the first person, refers directly to Ovidio Guzmán and the Sinaloa cartel group that mobilized for his release.

This does not mean that the composers maintain a direct relationship with the Sinaloa cartel. As Lobato (2010: 11) suggests, composing in the first person "allows the author to create a closer link between the lyrical-narrative voice and the audience, so that everything expressed acquires more dramatic intensity". For security reasons, the positioning of the musicians with respect to a cartel depends on the territory where the musicians and composers are situated (Malcomson, 2019). The content of the compositions maintains a relationship with the knowledge, proximity and familiarity that the composers have with the character and the context. The writing involves the exaltation of significant traits, the description of qualities, the enunciation of values and ideals and the reproduction of prototypical images of drug traffickers (Lobato, 2010; Malcomson, 2019). An idealized character is constructed, blurring the line between veracity and fiction (Simonett, 2004) to build a narrative that connects with an immediate reality. The aim is for the story to be credible, for there to be a connection with the audience and to increase the popularity of the composition. Also, in the compositions "the figure of the drug trafficker is constituted as a cultural icon, as a market strategy and as a profitable consumer product" (Burgos, 2016: 6).

When asked about the motivations for writing "Ovidio Guzmán. El rescate", we find that the composers recognize that drug trafficking is a topic of interest to the people of Sinaloa, it is something they talk about: "I think we live in a city that we already know how the situation is here" (Jesús Antonio). At the same time, they recognize that corridos about drug trafficking to the rhythm of banda and norteño are accepted by listeners: "As they say, to the public whatever they ask for. The people are the ones who are in charge and more so here, here we are starving for another genre... Here they have to be corridos, or norteño" (Víctor); "They hire you more for the corrido... A group that sings the majority of corriditos or something, the pull [work] you're always going to have" (Alvin). In this case, a motive for composing was to become visible and increase their popularity:

[Victor]Well, more than anything, to make ourselves a little better known, really. Because we already knew that this could happen and what happened, which is that the video had many reproductions... But we never imagined that it would happen... [Pavel] We knew that many groups were going to release the corrido, but we have to fight for it too. Well, we were waiting for what every group is waiting for, to be known.

We knew that we were probably going to get attention for the corrido. But we also thought that we are not going to be the only ones to come out with a corrido. In fact, there are several. This was the one that was heard the most. Maybe because it was the one that came out first, and recorded in a studio. Because on the day of the events, the very day of the events, there were already corridos circulating, but with pure guitar. Some of them I didn't get to listen to them, and others I did, they are there on the internet, but they are with pure guitar and they just stayed there... We knew that there were other groups that were going to release corridos. That's why we said: anyway someone else is going to release it (Pavel).

In recent years, the internet and social networks have been considered alternative spaces for the dissemination of narcocorridos. Social networks guarantee access, listening and prompt distribution of the compositions. In addition, instant sharing, interaction and contact between the musicians and the audience are increased. The viralization of a composition will depend on the visibility in different networks, recommendations and/or common interests shared among listeners (Simonett and Burgos, 2015). This generates forms of socialization where listeners are active agents in the processes of production, distribution and resignification of music. In the experience of Arte Norte:

I still got home and started to make the video to upload it to the internet. Until it was uploaded to the internet I said, I can rest now. I think I uploaded the video at 7 o'clock in the morning and at that time I went to sleep (Pavel).

[Victor] Only once we put it on [on social networks]. From there people started to grab it [Pavel] In my case, WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram contacts asked me for it. They asked me for the audio or the video so they could publish it. It is news. And everyone, whoever likes it, wants to have it at that moment. So many people asked me for it... whoever asked me for it, I passed it on.

For Arte Norte it was impossible to predict and control the course, scope and effects that the composition would have on the network. For them it was surprising that the corrido accompanied the content of some newscasts and that its musical narrative transcended local, national and transnational levels.

I wasn't at home, we were working, and at home it was on the news. Hey! the corrido was on the news. And my dad works in a tianguis, in the Huizaches [popular mobile market], and the next day they had the corrido playing there in the record stand. They were playing the corrido there in the tianguis! And that's when I said: Igatu, so yes, it's being heard (Víctor).

There were newscasts. Well, I have family in the United States, in Nevada, and they sent me bits and pieces of video news from the United States and they had the music in the background with the images of the corrido. Direct Line [local newscast] was also one of the first ones they passed on to us (Jesús Antonio).

The spread of the corrido generated job opportunities and recognition of the group in other localities:

We had never received any calls from the United States until after this was recorded. But we can't do anything, we don't have a visa right now. My colleague here got a call from Guatemala, to send greetings for the radio. From Tijuana several salons, from Las Pulgas too. So several things came out of there, so far so good, thank God we are like this. What is going to happen with the corrido, maybe it will stay there, or maybe I tell my colleagues "we need to record something else", to take advantage of the visualizations, so that the people themselves say "ah, they recorded something else again" (Jesús Antonio).

In my case, I've just been commissioned a corrido from the United States. But it is nothing like what you are referring to. It's from a guy who is from here, from the Cosalá side, and he's wet. So since he is doing well, he wants his corrido, he wants his corrido, and he contacted me as a result of this corrido: "hey, I heard you guys". He contacted me and that's where we are right now. But it has nothing to do [with drug trafficking], the boy works in the fields (Jesús Antonio).

(Victor) It opens jobs, it does open jobs. It is going to open up work, more than anything else. I expect work. (Pavel) Yes, that's what it is, it's the projection that the corrido is giving us inside and outside the country. And I think that the next thing to do is to take out another song for something that we can play.

Risks and warnings

According to the musicians, the corrido "Ovidio Guzmán. El rescate" had a considerable amount of reproductions. However, it is not a composition that they could promote, make a video clip or play it in any space. In Culiacán there were no local groups, with trajectory and recognition, that immediately released a corrido about what happened on October 17: "Nobody did the corrido. We had the courage or the audacity to do it" (Jesús Antonio). Burgos (2016: 5) documents that young groups "take the risk of composing about drug trafficking to open a space for themselves in the musical medium, as a strategy to make themselves known and achieve fame". The recognition of these compositions leads to what Malcomson (2019) calls "cruel optimism". That is, when certain songs about drug trafficking increase the popularity of a group, but at the same time limits are established, compromises are made, or protective measures are imposed on the lives of the musicians.

From the experience of the musicians, they composed with information of something that was news. The content does not say something "that was not already known", "nothing that people have not seen", "we are not making known anything extraordinary", "it is not an invented lyric". They consider that they related "what happened". However, the corrido did not go unnoticed, Pavel commented:

The corrido had already gone viral, so we couldn't stop it, because it was already circulating in many places... Two days later, threats or warnings began to circulate through WhatsApp and Facebook to composers and groups that didn't want them to publish anything about what happened that day.

The composition and the Arte Norte channel (which they had maintained since 2011) were reported and removed from YouTube. The musicians recognize that there are people who may have disliked the composition and probably reported it. On the other hand, they had the experience of rejections and claims from the local music guild. Pavel and Jesús Antonio commented that musicians from other groups told them: "no, delete it; no, take it down; fucking ugly corrido; you are going to have a lot of problems; they are going to do something to you; they are going to do something to you; they are going to tablear". The members of Arte Norte infer that it was because of envy and with the intention that the composition did not increase reproductions. At that time they ignored the messages and did not remove the video.

There was a general warning directed at Sinaloa musicians. Jesús Antonio recalls WhatsApp messages, Facebook and Instagram posts and audios "for composers and groups not to put out anything about what happened that day."

It is strictly forbidden to make any posts about what happened on Thursday, October 17. Those who have uploaded any corrido to social networks are asked to please delete it or remove it from social networks.

Spread the word, it's not a game, whoever has uploaded a corrido better remove or delete it. Whoever disregards it, must abide by the consequences.

PlebesFor all colleagues, groups or fans who shared the song, please delete it from your stories and publications. We are informed that it is strictly forbidden to make a run on what happened.

Audio warning to musicians and composers from Sinaloa.

Jesús Antonio received a message that said "I recommend that if you have recorded it that you remove it from the networks, because of the conversations I have heard". Pavel was called on the phone, this is how he relates the experience:

They talk to me directly on the phone and tell me:
- ¿You are the Arte Norte?
- Yes, listen, at your service.
- This... and who gave them permission to record, to release that corrido?
- No, no one, I tell you. No one. We are just telling you what happened, I tell you.
- No, well no, there is no permission to make corridos, and we want it to be removed from social networks. We don't want them to play it.

So that's what we did, we had it removed from the social networks.

Then some audio of another person began to circulate on WhatsApp. And in the audio he says the nickname of a person who is involved [with drug trafficking]. So that's when we said: you know what, we have to remove it now. And we removed it.

From these experiences, the members of Arte Norte expressed fear and insecurity. Part of the musicians' agency (Malcomson, 2019) also involves the management of their musical productions, the recognition of difficulties and the assessment of risks in the contexts of violence where they are situated.

Yes, there is fear. Even today, we still do not play it in our presentations. We don't play it unless the client asks us to and also seeing what kind of people we are with; because, well, the threats were very clear: "we don't want them to sing the corrido, we don't want them to record it, we don't want it on social networks" (Pavel).

Burgos (2016: 17) documents that narcocorrido composers and performers carry out their activities with caution and precaution, avoiding delicate and risky situations; "when hired, musicians are not free to perform the corridos or songs they want. At all times they try to please the client who paid for their services". In addition, they value the context, the situation and the people they meet to play part of their musical repertoire.

Returning to Skjerdal (2008), self-censorship occurs under unwritten rules. The "fear factor" is a central element in this practice. According to Skjerdal, self-censorship occurs when topics that are sensitive, controversial, of social conflict and about extraordinary events over which they want to have control are addressed; also when the contents could alter aspects of security, politics, religion, sexuality or other taboo topics.

Following Salomon (2015) and Anttonen (2017), self-censorship is a situated social and cultural practice, operating at the "micro" level and involving the agency and meanings of those who participate in it. This does not make musicians victims or accomplices. Musicians practice "active self-censorship" (Skjerdal, 2008: 194) in that they maintain reservations, manage, decide and resolve what to do with their compositions so as not to generate tensions and conflicts. For Anttonen (2017), this regulation or restraint is based on "common sense" and the reading and interpretation of the context. That is, the recognition that it is "a bad time", or that their music is inappropriate for the situation being experienced. Thus, it is not the lyrical content that is inappropriate in a musical expression, but it is the context that frames the sense of inappropriateness (Anttonen, 2017). In such a situation, musicians are sensitive, empathetic, and responsible (Carpenter, 2017) by adjusting and reserving part of their repertoire, canceling performances, and keeping respect for fans. They also practice self-censorship as a strategy to protect the musicians and care for the image of the music group (Anttonen, 2017).

Self-censorship enables creative sociomusical practices, while encouraging reflection, awareness and a critical stance towards one's own musical creations and the socio-political context in which the music is inserted (Salomon, 2015). This is how Arte Norte positions itself in the context of its musical production:

Making corridos or not is not going to eliminate the violence that already exists. The violence does not lie in the corrido, it lies in the lack of work, the bad salaries. Making or not making corridos is not going to change that. One does not try to make corridos more violent. It is simply that the corrido culture is that, it is a culture that is already rooted here in Mexico and it could be said that here in Sinaloa much more than in other states of the country... Corridos are a culture of yesteryear, before they talked about the Revolution; now, they talk about drug trafficking, which is what is happening now in society (Pavel).


It is important to recognize the psychosocial value of narcocorridos as micro-stories situated in a cultural and historical context. In this article, the corrido of "Ovidio Guzmán. El rescate" represents a popular and alternative narrative, which takes the social pulse, creates, recreates and musically resignifies the violent events related to October 17, 2019 in Culiacán. Narcocorridos are a way of accessing social thought, experiences, explanations and ways of interpreting drug trafficking and violence in Mexico.

From the experiences of the musicians, their active role and agency become visible. They are young people who recognize and give meaning to the conditions of violence in which they live. The content of "Ovidio Guzmán. El rescate" arises from their experiences, from the understanding of the context and the culture to which they belong. The musicians' personal experiences and digital sociability are significant. The immediacy of their practices of writing, musicalization, recording and dissemination of the corrido also stands out. This has to do not only with the mastery of a musical technique, but it is also important the proximity and interpretation they make of their context. In this composition, the use of technology and social networks in sociomusical practices favored the immediate viralization of a narcocultural narrative produced in real time. The circulation of "Ovidio Guzmán. El rescate" was part of the processes of communication, assimilation and socialization of the culiacanazo.

Writing, composing and broadcasting are practices that musicians carry out in spite of risky conditions. They creatively overcome difficulties; they process and transform the information they possess; they create, contextualize and take a position regarding their contents. In this article we propose the idea of "active self-censorship" to make visible a micro-social practice that implies the musicians' agency. That is, to generate minimum conditions of safety and protection from the management of their repertoire, risk assessment, moderation in their presentations and the interpretation they make of the situation where they are.

Although the musicians' practices are guided by commercial interests, to gain visibility and increase their popularity, in their experience they exhibit a reflexive and conscious exercise of their own work. At the same time, they maintain a critical stance on the social, political, economic and cultural context in which their compositions circulate.


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César Jesús Burgos Dávila is a full time professor-researcher at the School of Psychology, Universidad Autónoma de Sinaloa (uas). Master of Science and PhD in Social Psychology from the Autonomous University of Barcelona. His recent publications are: "I am a rooster from Sinaloa played in several palenques.Production and Consumption of Narco-Music in a Transnational World"; "La censura al narcocorrido en México: Análisis etnográfico de la controversia". Address: Calzada de las Américas Nte. s/n, Ciudad Universitaria, Facultad de Psicología, Culiacán, Sinaloa.

Julián Alveiro Almonacid Buitrago is a professor in the Department of Social Sciences at the National Pedagogical University of Colombia. He is a PhD candidate in Educational Sciences, uas. Master of Science in History Teaching from the Institute of Historical Research of the Universidad Michoacana de San Nicolás de Hidalgo. His latest publication is: "Memoria y enseñanza de la historia del narcotráfico y las guerras esmeralderas. The sociocultural value of the forbidden corrido".

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