A New Generation of Narco Narratives


While the Mexican musical genre narco corridos has been subject to scholarly analysis (Ragland 2011; Simonett 2001; Wald 2001), the sub-genre known as movimiento alterado represents a gap in the present body of knowledge. It is unique for the way in which its musical stylings and marketing thrive off duplicity. Composition, distribution, and systematic popularization of narco-centric songs are not happenstance, but rather exhibit sinister qualities. In addition to examining when corrido style adulation became more murderously bombastic and shifted attention to those who not only broke laws and took risks but did so in an extreme and violent style, this post will discuss the ominous brand of “fanboyism” inspired by movimiento alterado. While originally a term that emerged in the online gamer community, the term “fan-boy” has spread to other cultural products and outlets, particularly those with a social media and internet presence. At its most basic, a “fanboy” or “fangirl” is “an excessively loyal fan of a product and/or its company who blindly supports every action without question or reasoning” (Meixsell 2013). I will begin by introducing the BuKnas de Culiacán (BuKnas), a musical group illustrative of this phenomenon. Next, I will discuss how fakery and fanboyism are trapped in a perplexing contest, suggesting that movimiento alterado corridos have become the chosen medium for real-deal and “wannabe” narcos alike to craft and perpetuate a celebration of rebelliousness. Finally, I will explore directions for the future of narco music.



The band BuKnas was spotlighted in the 2013 documentary Narco Culturaa film that offers a shocking glimpseinto a distressing aspect that has emerged from the millennial movimiento alterado iteration of narco corridos


The documentary splits time between following Richi Soto, a Crime Scene Investigator (CSI) for the Mexican forensic department in Juárez, Mexico, and Edgar Quintero, the lead singer of BuKnas, based in Los Angeles, America. The viewers’ first introduction to Edgar Quintero is in the midst of a commission request from a fan named “El Ghost” in which he details the specifics of what he would like to hear in a personalized narco corrido. Quintero dutifully obliges by delivering the song in person and performing a few stanzas a capella, which El Ghost proceeds to record on his cell phone (presumably to upload immediately after the meeting concludes, affording instant exposure for both).


Figure 1: “Nuestra Señora.” Image courtesy of elbatogato under CC BY 2.0 via Flickr.


Thus begins a series of scenes in which Quintero and/or his cohort glamorize the narco lifestyle despite living on the U.S. side of the border and having spent very little time in Mexico. Guns of all shapes and sizes appear to be a permanent fixture in the imaginations of Quintero and the BuKnas and appear frequently on album covers and as part of stage costumes, an obvious influence from the '80s when narco singers were notorious for carrying a gun tucked into their pants at all times. The prominent capitalization of the letter “K” in their name denotes a sideways AK-47, iconography originally associated with The Komander, another popular movimiento alterado artist. More flagrant brandishing of narco-centric props is a main fixture of one particular show performed in El Paso, Texas during which bazookas are brought out on stage, and gunshot sound effects serve as song preludes. The merriness of the scene is sobering when paired with the garish lyrics that Quintero croons to the backdrop of a passionate and adoring crowd.



Previous corrido writing styles seem tame in comparison to what BuKnas have authored. Their message is riddled with scare tactics meant to dissuade one from encroaching on any aspect of their physical, familial, or financial turf lest they have a death wish. It is a glorification of the bandito lifestyle, espousing power (AK-47 and a bazooka); physical strength (need to chop off a head); moral liberation (bloodthirsty, crazy, and fondness for murder); comradery (traveling together in a caravan, never leaving one behind or alone); and invincibility (bulletproof vests). Smuggler characters in ballads of the '80s and '90s tended to express remorse for having been caught and for the life that they miss out on as a result, yet the characters performed by BuKnas seem to be incapable of remorse.  

In the film, as scenes of the bazooka-bearing, gunshot-rattled concert fade, the viewer is struck by the profound contrast afforded by the abrupt transition to the (real) blood spattered car windshield that had been riddled by (real) bullets back in Juárez. The continuous holding up of one versus the other gradually results in the BuKnas appearing more and more farcical. Assertions by their fans, managing parties, or even themselves that what they do by providing a physical and emotive space for regular people to go to a club and feel narco for that night is in any way principled or exemplar emerges as a radically flawed interpretation of the fame they have acquired, the music they write, and the narco characters they perform. The dichotomy achieved by Director Shaul Schwarz is perhaps most evident in these two scenes (the concert in El Paso and the early morning crime scene in Juárez) precisely because the all-too-real nature of the themes and actions that the BuKnas croon about become tangible, as do the suggested criticisms via imagery and editing in regard to their behavior and exploitative tendencies. 


Friends in Fakery

Still, many defend the BuKnas. Joel Vásquez, the promoter for the BuKnas’ U.S.-based record label Twiins, offers a vehement rationalization that narco and violence-centric music and performance, particularly of the movimiento alterado niche, are uprightly fulfilling the public call to perpetuate a much-needed rebellion by operating outside of the perceived corrupt and ineffective law. He praises the ability and willingness of narco bandits to “fight the man.”

What warrants examination is the moral dilemma posed by groups like the BuKnas and the deep effect movimiento alterado appears to have had on the millennial socio-cultural psyche of the northern Mexican and southern U.S. border regions. Deceptive is an apt term to apply to the BuKnas’ métier, at least insofar as the film portrays it. Quintero himself has spent little time in Culiacan, Sinaloa, or even Mexico. He acknowledges that he does not possess the same depth of local vocabulary and slang as a local sinaloense or mexicano, and flippantly surmises that a six-month vacation on the other side of the border would perhaps do him and his career wonders for the inspiration it would afford.


Figure 2: Image courtesy of Amber_Avalona under CC0 via Pixabay.


An underlying sense of artificiality further emerges when we note Quintero and the BuKnas’ extreme lack of proximity to the locale which they sing about, and the resulting dependence on second-hand information. Perhaps more startling than any other disclosure is that of the BuKnas’ near total dependence on YouTube and narco-centric blogs for their lyrical content. This is a reality that Quintero laments since “all Komander [and other Mexican-based alterado performers] has to do is walk outside” (Schwarz 2013), lending The Komander more credibility than Quintero. 

The rationale for such internet dependence is elaborated on by the BuKnas manager while he conducts a Google search and peruses the website “Blog del narco,” their go-to site, in search of song-worthy news. His defense of relying on the blog as a reputable source is curious. Reliance on internet searches for storylines to write and sing about distances the BuKnas from achieving the authenticity that they aspire towards since it emphasizes how much, in fact, they are not present as events transpire, and how much of outsiders they really are. This point is inadvertently reinforced by Quintero when he asserts that “anything I write in my garage in L.A. is just total bullshit” and “you have to experience the real thing to write about it” (Schwarz 2013). Additional disingenuous tendencies are unintentionally divulged when the opportunity arises for the group to visit Mexico: “It’s funny, BuKnas de Culiacán has the name Culiacán in it, but I’ve got to be honest, I really don’t know Culiacán” (Schwarz 2013). Seeking primary source material and eyewitness inspiration is not the point of contention with such an admission. Rather, it is precisely such exaggerated narco posturing, lack of authenticity, and overall sense of staging during the trip’s duration that makes such a statement standout to the viewer. Quintero is not an eyewitness to anything more authentic than their manager was able to plan and coordinate with on-site handlers and guides. 

Immediately after reflecting on how distant he feels from Culiacán, the documentary cuts to a scene in which Quintero and the BuKnas’ manager records a cell phone video, presumably to begin the social media campaign to publicize their “genuine” visit to Sinaloa. Standing in front of a black Ford F-150 truck while holding a bottle of beer and firing a handgun into the sky, they offer a bullet-filled tribute to the Culiacán ranchito behind them. This is highly illustrative of the BuKnas’ ploy to leverage social mass media and calculated communicative strategies to raise their own voice, to perform their own music, and thus to imagine and create their own version of the world, one in which they are rich, powerful, influential, and most importantly, all-Mexican and all-in for the homeland. They do not need to assimilate into the American musical mainstream in order to achieve a meaningful identity or narrative but are able to become extremely successful “because of their Mexincanness” - or rather, for the BuKnas, their effective representation of the Mexican narco badboy (Simonett 2011:319).

The cameraman makes sure to pan around so that the background landscape is clearly visible, most probably to authenticate their presence in the area. It is an effort to prove their “street” and sinaloense credibility yet is entirely staged which again only highlights how disconnected the BuKnas actually are from the community they claim to hail from. Taken together, it becomes difficult to see movimiento alterado “as anything but a shrewd business decision, a carefully plotted attempt to cash in on Mexican drug violence…and to do so at a distance – from within the relative safety of the United States” (Kun 2012). 


Imagining the next Narco narrative

Several complex questions arise with regard to the notion of socio-artistic responsibility, particularly during periods of conflict. Do the BuKnas simply re-stage reality, or are they actively fueling violence? Is the BuKnas catalog of narco corridos a catalyst for, or product of, social problems stoked by endemic violence? There are three socially and culturally damaging by-products: a muddling of reality, an impetus for others to engage in real-life action with real-life consequence, and a contribution to the creation of a generation of mislead youth who make decisions to act based on hyperbole, fakery, and/or fabrication. A consideration of the ethics involved with such sensationalizing of death, murder, war, and cartels is essential in suggesting that narco corridos have morphed into a type of “necro” corrido for the manner in which they both normalize the culture of death and violence and serve as an intoxicant in the psyche of listeners towards more extreme behavioral norms.


Figure 3: Image courtesy of djedj under CC0 via Pixabay.


It remains to be seen what lies beyond the current movimiento alterado variety of narco corrido. Nevertheless, other millennial performers such as Gerardo Ortiz appear to be offering a fresh niche within the genre, one that is perhaps more reflective and less inclined towards glorification of the macabre. His songs have taken a unique direction since a pivotal moment in 2011 permanently impacted his personal and professional trajectory: while leaving a concert in Colima, his truck was gunned down by a barrage of bullets that killed the driver and Ortiz’s manager, and very nearly ended his life as well. 

The impact of the attack was obvious on the album he released afterwards, “Entre Dios y el Diablo.” Breaking from prior compositional norms in which Ortiz had previously played the roles of “vicious cartel henchman,” proud and brutal torturer, and Sinaloa Cartel security accomplice, much of this album offers a profound (by comparison) reflection on death, violence, and the impact it has on culture, society, and ones’ self (Kun 2012). This is perhaps most evident in the song “Cara A La Muerte” in which Ortiz makes his biggest, and perhaps most important to date, alteration of the movimiento alterado style: he “switches from one side of the AK-47 to the other, narrating from inside of a coffin while lamenting the damages and wounds of his life” (Kun 2012). 



He yearns for the chance to be re-born into a new life where there is “no más sangre” (no more blood) and a collective sense of “ya basta” (enough already). This is the closest that “any [millennial] narco corrido has come to joining the protesters and the poets and the bereaved thousands” in expressing communal fatigue and satiation with the BuKnas (and others) style of posturing, pandering, propagating that perpetuates a narco centric existence as preeminent (Kun 2012).



The question arises when examining the trajectory of narco corridos as to whether the movimiento alterado iteration represents development or degeneration. Lyrical and behavioural styles and the reaction and consumption on behalf of the public suggest a socio-cultural need to reinterpret long existing narratives surrounding access to opportunity and socio-economic mobility. Music aids in this process of renegotiation, even when it veers towards nihilism and the macabre, because of its capacity to function as a “strategic site for production and negotiation” within in an overall environment of “contemporary economic and political marginalization” (Hugo Viesca 2004:726). Some might claim that Ortiz’s repertoire diverges from the track towards non-compromising social, political, and cultured vocality is his rejection of mainstream narconomics, and everything held therein, a type of ultimate self-realization; an ultimate re-casting of what was previously a stagnated narrative.



Kun, Josh. 2012. “Death Rattle.” The American Prospect. http://prospect.org/article/death-rattle.

Meixsell, Jesse. 2013. “Understanding ‘fanboyism’: an overused and misconstrued term.” Venture Beat. venturebeat.com/community/2013/08/22/understanding-fanboy-ism-an-overused-and-misconstrued-term/, accessed August 25, 2015. 

Narco Cultura. Directed by Shaul Schwarz. Ocean Size Pictures: 2013, 2016.

Ragland, Cathy. 2011. “From Pistol-Packing Pelado to Border Crossing Mojado: El Piporro and the Making of a ‘Mexican’ Border Space.” In Transnational Encounters: Music and Performance at the U.S.-Mexico Border, edited by Alejandro L. Madrid, 342-372. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

___ 2009. Música Norteña: Mexican Migrants Creating a Nation between Nations. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Simonett, Helena. 2011. “Re-localized Rap and its Representation of the Hombre digno.” In Transnational Encounters: Music and Performance at the U.S.-Mexico Border, edited by Alejandro L. Madrid, 129-148. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

___ 2001. “Narcocorridos: An Emerging Micromusic of Nuevo L.A.” Ethnomusicology 45:2, 315-337.

Viesca, Victor Hugo. 2004. “The Cultural Politics of Chicano/a Music in the Greater Eastside.” American Quarterly 56:3, 719-739.

Wald, Elijah. 2001. Narcocorrido: A Journey into the Music of Drugs, Guns, and Guerrillas. New York: Rayo. 



Kaitlin E. Thomas, Ph.D., is a Lecturer of Spanish at Norwich University and for the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth. Her research delves into U.S. and Latino/a identities that are resulting from trans-border cultural and national fusion, (un)documented Latino/a immigration, and contemporary Mexico. 

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