Narcocorrido or “drug ballad,” is a popular sub-genre of Mexican folk music where song lyrics glorify the real-life exploits of drug traffickers.
Drug traffickers will sometimes commission a musician, for tens of thousands of dollars, to sing a narcocorrido about them in order to “immortalize” themselves.
The downside to the narcocorrido is that the musician, while praising some in the drug game, is bound to offend others.
The Mexican folk musician murders are part of a much bigger problem in Mexico. Drug violence in Mexico increased during Felipe Calderon’s presidency. According to federal reports, between 2007 and 2011, the drug war resulted in at least 60,000 casualties. It is important to note that these figures are questionably low since in Mexico “fewer than 10 percent of all crimes are investigated.”
Here are 13 Mexican folk musicians, most who touched upon the narcocorrido genre, who have died from unnatural causes. It is important to note, that while drug cartels are suspected to be linked to their deaths, no one has been brought to justice:
1. Rosalino “Chalino” Sanchez
Chalino was one of the first prominent narcocorrido singers in both Mexico and the United States. On Jan. 20, 1992, he was thrust into the national spotlight after a patron shot him at a nightclub in Coachella, Calif. Chalino survived the shooting. His shooter, however, was shot in the mouth and died. After gaining notoriety from the incident, Chalino’s music finally began to receive airtime on Spanish-language radio.
On May 15, 1992, Chalino played a concert in his hometown of Culiacan in Sinaloa, Mexico. After the concert, he drove away from the venue with his entourage before being pulled over by a group of armed men with police identification. They asked him to get into their car so they could take him to see the commandante. Chalino obliged and that was the last time he was seen alive. The next day, his body was found in a ditch, blindfolded with rope marks around his wrists. He had two bullet holes in the back of his head.
2. Valentin Elizalde
On Nov. 25, 2006, Valentin Elizalde performed a concert at a state fair in Reynosa, Tamaulipas. His last song at this concert was a song titled “Para Mis Enemigos (For My Enemies),” the lyrics of which are allegedly about attacking members of the Gulf Cartel. Twenty minutes after the concert, as he drove away from the venue, his car was ambushed by members of Los Zetas (at that time working for the Gulf Cartel as their armed muscle), who opened fire on Elizalde’s black Suburban with automatic weapons. Elizalde, his manager, and his chaffeur were killed instantly. Elizalde was shot 20 times. Seventy bullet cartridges were found on the scene.
Elizalde was posthumously nominated for a Grammy in 2007.
3. Tecno Banda Fugaz
On Feb. 18, 2007, after performing for a dance party in Matamoros, five members of Tecno Banda Fugaz were fired upon by gunmen with AK-47s while they were dropping off their musical equipment in a pickup truck. Carlos Gonzales Hurtado, the band’s leader, survived the attack after being rushed to the hospital in critical condition. The four other members, including Hurtado’s son, died at the scene.
4. Zayda Peña Arjona
Zayda Peña Arjona was the lead singer for the popular grupero band Zayda y Los Culpables. The band’s popularity reached its peak with the song “Tiro de Gracia (Coup de Grâce)” about a woman’s failed relationship.
On Nov. 29, 2007, Peña was staying at the Monaco Motel in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, just near the U.S.-Mexico Border. An unknown gunman opened fire on Peña, her friend, and a motel employee. Although Peña was shot in the back, she survived the attack. Her friend and the motel employee both died at the scene.
Peña was taken to a medical facility, where doctors determined the bullet wound was not life-threatening. While resting in the medical facility, after a successful operation to extract the bullet from her back, two gunmen entered the hospital, found her, and shot her point blank in the chest and face. She died instantly.
Although Peña never made a song about drug traffickers, her mother worked at a public prosecutor’s office.
5. Sergio Gomez
Sergio Gomez was born in Ciudad Hidalgo, Michoacan. He immigrated to the United States and worked in Chicago for awhile, before forming K-Paz de la Sierra in 2003, along with other native Mexican musicians. K-Paz eventually became a staple of the popular duranguense musical genre.
In the early hours of Dec. 2, 2007, after performing a concert in the state of Michoacán, Gomez and several other musicians were traveling in a car before being abducted by gunmen. The other musicians were eventually released, but Gomez was nowhere to be found. The following day, Gomez’s body was found in the outskirts of Morelia, showing clear signs of torture (his body was covered in bruises, parts of his body were burnt with cigarette butts, and there were signs of strangulation).
Just like Valentin Elizalde, Gomez was posthumously nominated for a Grammy in 2007.
6. José Luis Aquino
José Luis Aquino was a trumpeter for the popular banda group Los Conde, that also sang narcocorrido songs. Aquino had been missing for days before his body was finally found on Dec. 8, 2007, half-buried underneath a bridge in the state of Oaxaca, located in southern Mexico. Aquino had been bound by his hands and feet, and his head was wrapped in a black plastic bag. Evidence suggests he was beaten to death.
Fellow band members say they don’t know how this could’ve happened. “He was a good person and never fought with anyone,” said Los Conde guitarist Francisco Conde. “He didn’t smoke or do drugs.” Aquino was 33 years old and left behind a wife and two kids.
7. Jesús Rey David Alfaro Pulido aka “El Gallito”
On Feb. 13, 2008, Jesús Alfaro Pulido, his representative Israel Torres, and his manager José Guadalupe Topete were found dead in Tijuana, Mexico. According to police reports, all three bodies showed signs of torture and asphyxiation, before being shot in the head. Pulido’s body specifically was found frozen. The bodies were also found with a written message on a piece of paper that simply read “nosotros si vamos (we will go).”
Pulido had garnered local fame for covering famous narcocorrido songs by Valentin Elizalde.
8. Los Herederos de Sinaloa
On Oct. 29, 2008, after giving an interview to a reporter at the Sinaloan newspaper El Sol de Sinaloa, all three members of the band and their representative were ambushed by two gunmen as they exited the newspaper’s offices. Witnesses say the four victims were walking toward their car when a Yukon pulled in front of them. The two gunmen exited the vehicle and shot the musicians and their manager with AK-47s. Los Herederos de Sinaloa were in the midst of promoting their latest single “Eres Tan Linda.”
Accordion player Jesus Moreno, bass player Leo Pena, double bass player Mauricio Osuna, and their representative Angel Manuel Rios Lizarraga were all killed in the ambush.
9. Sergio Vega “El Shaka”
Sergio Vega immigrated to the United States in 1988. He formed a musical group with his brothers in 1989 in Phoenix, Ariz. Vega eventually gained mainstream popularity when he formed another group, Los Rayos del Norte, which would eventually be renamed Sergio Vega y Sus Shakas del Norte.
On June 26, 2010, Vega was on his way to a concert in Sinaloa. Gunmen, who were traveling in a truck, drove alongside Vega’s red Cadillac and opened fire with automatic weapons. Vega lost control of his vehicle and crashed. The gunmen proceeded to shoot Vega in the head and chest at close range. Vega was shot approximately 30 times.
Just hours before his murder, Vega was asked by Mexican website La Oreja about false reports of his death. “It’s happened to me for years now, someone tells a radio station or a newspaper I’ve been killed, or suffered an accident,” Vega said. “And then I have to call my dear mom, who has heart trouble, to reassure her.”
10. Fabián Ortega Piñón
On Oct. 19, 2010, Fabián Ortega Piñón, aka “El Halcon de la Sierra,” was found executed on the side of the road in Guerrero, Chihuahua, alongside two other people, including a relative.
In 2009, Piñón was caught in a sting operation with a close associate of now former Tijuana Cartel lieutenant Teodoro García Simental, “El Teo.”
Piñón had recorded several narcocorrido albums and appeared in low-budget Mexican “narcocinema” films.
11. La Quinta Banda
La Quinta Banda were a popular narcocorrido group, hailing from Chihuahua, Mexico. They would often sing about the Juarez Cartel and their drug trafficking exploits.
In the early hours of Saturday, Feb. 4, 2012, gunmen opened fire on the band while they were performing onstage in a nightclub in Chihuahua. Five band members and four club patrons died on the scene. The band appeared to be the gunmen’s primary target.
12. Jesus “Chuy” Quintanilla
“Chuy” Quintanilla was a federal police officer in Mexico for 27 years before moving to South Texas. He was known for his ballads and folk songs hailing drug cartel violence. One song called “The Ballad of Tony Tormenta” chronicled the death of the leader of the Gulf Cartel, who was killed in a gun battle in Matamoros, Tamaulipas in 2010.
On the morning of April 25, 2013, Quintanilla’s body was found in a pool of blood in a grapefruit field in Mission, TX. He was shot twice in the head and lay next to his SUV. There are no suspects.
13. Tomas Tovar Rascon aka “Tito Torbellino”
Pheonix-born Tomas Rascon, better known by his stage name “Tito Torbellino,” was an up-and-coming banda singer who was at the verge of mainstream success. Rascon had been been known to sing narcocorrido songs and use guns in some of his music videos.
On Thursday, May 29, 2014, Rascon was eating at an Asian cuisine restaurant in the town of Ciudad Obregón in the border state of Sonora, when two gunmen entered the restaurant and shot him several times point blank. Rascon died on the way to the hospital. Rascon was scheduled to perform in Ciudad Obregón on Friday night. No clear motive has been given for the killing.