Corrido: The History of Mexican Life in Song

High angle view of Mariachi band
High angle view of Mariachi band. Jeremy Woodhouse/Getty Images

Long before there were written biographies or even a culture where literacy was more than a privilege of the wealthy few, the tales of heroes & villains, repression & revolution, love won & love lost were part of the oral tradition of every country in the world. These tales served as inspiration, moral lessons and as a way to reinforce national identity by revealing the soul of a people through tales passed from father to son, from bard to apprentice.

Often these tales were set to music.

The availability of printed material, radio, and visual media has not extinguished this oral tradition. In Mexico, it has evolved into today’s ‘corrido.’

The Corrido in History

The corrido gained a large following around the time of the Mexican-American War (the 1840s). Almost the entire war with America was preserved in the texts of these songs.

Other popular themes revolved around the worker’s plight, romance, nostalgia for hearth & home. But the corrido gained significant momentum during the days of the dictator Porforito Diaz and the ensuing resistance that led to the Mexican revolution (1910–1920). Popular heroes immortalized in song included Emiliano Zapata, Pascual Orozco, and Pancho Villa.

Listen to the corrido ‘El Mayor de Los Dorados" about Pancho Villa

“La Cucaracha” is a song known by every American schoolchild. During this period it was altered to become a popular song of Mexico’s revolution.

In the modified corrido, the lyrics were changed to reflect the political rivalry battle between Venustiano Carranza and the troops of Zapata and Villa.

Listen to La Cucaracha

Contemporary Corrido

In the 20th century, the corrido became a means of expression on the other side of the border as Mexican-Americans who had always lived in the Southwest U.S. - especially in those areas that had originally been part of Mexico – started to feel the injustice of being treated as a minority.

They found relief in songs depicting that injustice, such as the corrido “Discriminacion a un martir” which tells of funeral services being denied a WWII veteran.

With the onset of large-scale immigration to the U.S., the corrido themes started to concentrate on the life of migrant workers, immigration, nd stories of the lives of these immigrants. The reality of these lives included tales of drug trafficking as those who could find no other work turned the drug trade. These songs became known as narcocorridos.

The Music of Corrido

Corrido rhythms are not set; they can be a polka, waltz or march. The march and polka tempos are used more often for upbeat topics while the waltz often carries more tragic stories.

While the corrido is a story told to music, the actual instrumentation and style of the music depends on the musical region of the band or conjunto that is performing the song. There are corridos performed by groups classified as norteno, banda, duranguense and others. The music will reflect that specific style while telling the same story with basically the same lyrics – although lyrics can change to suit the social and political mood of the area and of the moment.

Popular Corrido Bands

Today the corrido has once again become one of the most popular forms of Mexican regional music.

There are many groups that perform corrido, but the most notable of these are Los Tigres del Norte who have played a major role in the composition and popularity of today’s contemporary corrido.

Among the other popular groups that play corrido are Los Cuates de Sinaloa, Los Tucanes de Tijuana, El Tigrillo Palma, Patrulla 81, Ramon Ayala and many more.