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Loyal readers of this column may have noticed that I spend a great deal of my time on the Westside of Indianapolis. Lately I've been frequenting Chispas, a large nightclub located directly across the street from the Lafayette Square Mall. Featuring a constant rotation of heavyweight live performers, Chispas is one of the premier music venues in Indianapolis - a fact that might be more widely known if not for the persistent marginalization of Latino culture in the United States.
Last Friday night Chispas featured a performance by Gerardo Ortiz, one of the fastest rising stars in Mexican popular music. Ortiz specializes in a genre of music known as narco-corrido, a spin-off from the traditional Mexican corrido song form. Musically the two genres share common ground, guitar-based ballads steeped in polka and waltz rhythms. But narco-corrido distinguishes itself from corrido through it's lyrics, which document the violent criminal culture surrounding Mexico's powerful drug cartels.
Ortiz has topped the Latin music charts with his highly artistic and poetic take on the narco-corrido genre and the club was filled to capacity for his charismatic performance. I spoke with the 23-year-old singer-songwriter after the show. Security was very tight, and understandably so. Like many narco-corrido performers, Ortiz has been a target of violence. In 2011 Ortiz narrowly escaped an attack that left two members of his entourage dead. I asked Ortiz about this incident as he shared his thoughts on corrido music.
NUVO: Can you give me a basic description of what corrido is?
Gerardo Ortiz: Essentially, a corrido is a song that tells a story. The corridos come from the Mexican state of Sinaloa and the music is part of the Sinloan culture. The subject matter of the corridos is ripped straight from newspaper headlines. We tell the stories of characters in the news, people involved in violence or people within the mafia - corridos talk a lot about the culture of the mafia. Corridos tell the stories of these characters in a three minute song.
NUVO: As an artist why did you gravitate toward the corrido form?
Ortiz: Because corridos were born in Sinaloa and I've lived in the state capitol Culiacan. It's always been a part of me. Ever since I was young I would listen to the corridos and so now it's what I do.
NUVO: There's been a significant amount of of controversy and violence surrounding narco-corrido music. Recent years have seen several prominent narco-corrido singers murdered. Last March you survived an ambush in Colima, Mexico and the attack resulted in the death of your cousin and chauffeur. Is there an inherent danger in performing narco-corrido music?
Ortiz: No, It's not that dangerous, we're just musicians and corrido is just a style of music - that is all. But, corrido is the music of the people and it tells the story of the people living in Mexico. Corrido speaks of their reality and right now this region is filled with violence.
Narco-corrido music is very popular. The demand for the music has added to the chaos and drama surrounding the reputation of the music. But, I've left all that drama behind me and this year has been full of success and many blessings.
NUVO: When you are composing a corrido, what's your point of view? Are you for or against the outlaw culture of the drug cartels?
Ortiz: It's not about whether I am for or against the characters in the songs. I try to tell both sides of the story. I talk about the positive and negative aspects. If you listen to my song "Cara a la Muerte" ("Face of Death,") the lyrics attempt to give the public an understanding of how dangerous life in the mafia is. But, my songs also talk about the positive side of the mafia and how productive it can be.
Special thanks to Karla Lopez-Owens for her assistance in translating this interview.
Each edition of A Cultural Manifesto features a mix from Kyle Long, spotlighting music from around the globe. This week's selection features a blend of new remixes and reissues from the African continent, plus a soon-to-be-released track from Ethiopian jazz musician Samuel Yirga.
1. Kutmah - Gold Egyptian (self released, 2012)
2. Samuel Yirga - The Blues of Wollo (Real World, 2012)
3. Bob Holroyd - African Drug [Four Tet Remix] (Phonica, 2011)
4. Sinkane - Runnin' [Daphni Mix] (self released, 2012)
5. Francis Bebey - New Track (Born Bad, 2012 reissue)
6. Baloji - Karibu Ya Bintou [dÉbruit Remix] (unreleased, 2012)
7. Orchestre Super Borgou de Parakou - Wedne Nda M'Banda (Analog Africa, 2012 reissue)