When news about the late September disappearance and possible murder of 43 students from the Mexican state of Guerrero began spreading, people across the country started spilling into the streets to issue calls for justice, voicing a collective cry of sorrow and outrage. In the nearly two months since then, protests have hardly abated, and on November 20 (a day that even had its own hash tags, among them #20NovMx and #20NovMex), thousands and thousands of people marched from three iconic landmarks in the capital—the Monument of the Revolution, the Angel of Independence statue, and the Plaza de las Tres Culturas de Tlatelolco (site of the 1968 massacre of students)–to the Zócalo in a nationwide gesture of solidarity with the families of the missing students. Their actions were particularly symbolic given that November 20 is Día de la Revolución, a day that commemorates the Mexican Revolution.
But not everyone who feels the horror and grief of the situation in Ayotzinapa can or wants to express their emotions in street marches and protests. Musicians around Mexico—and Mexican musicians living abroad—have been speaking out through their songs. Since early October, hundreds of corridos—a traditional ballad genre that has documented the dramas of life and death, both small-scale and society-wide, in Mexico since the revolutionary era– have been uploaded to YouTube and circulated online via social media platforms like twitter and Facebook.
The appropriation of the corrido form is both ironic and entirely appropriate as a means of protest, particularly since the corrido has, in recent years, been associated primarily with the narration—and even the celebration—of narcoviolence. But at their heart, corridos have traditionally been “gritty account[s] of history and current events [in which] [t]he underdog looms large,” according to the curator of the Smithsonian Folkways Recordings archive of corridos. “Humble men and women who have defied oppression are a favorite theme [of the genre].”
There’s hardly a more perfect vessel, then, for the stories of the disappeared students than the strains of the corridos that can now be found on YouTube. Take, for example, “Ayotzinapa 43,” the corrido composed, performed and uploaded to the site by José Luís Carrisoza Jr. and his father, José Luís Carrisoza Sr. Twenty-four year old José Luís Jr. and 56 year old José Luís Sr. are professional musicians who live in Chicago and collaborated on their corrido about the students. “One day I came home after a tour [with my group, Alerta Zero] and found my father very sad about what happened in Ayotzinapa, as he was born and raised in the state of Guerrero. He told me he had composed a few verses about what had happened in Ayotzinapa, and these were the three verses that marked the style and phrasing of what would become “Ayotzinapa 43.”
In the video, which José Luís Jr.’s girlfriend, Yareli, helped shoot, edit, and upload, he explains the reason why he and his father created the corrido. José Luís Sr. sits quietly at his side, visibly sad; then, both men take up their guitars and start singing. “Everything we wrote came straight from our souls,” José Luís Jr. says, adding that the corrido is ideal for expressing feelings about the disappeared students because it upholds the tradition of “word-of-mouth storytelling about the news,” which is what the corrido’s function has been historically. Neither of the Carrisozas has participated in a street protest, but Carrisoza Jr. has been active on twitter, urging followers and strangers who have expressed even a passing interest in Ayotzinapa to watch the video and share it with their networks.
The Carrisozas aren’t the only Mexican musicians who have composed and shared corridos online; there are hundreds that have been uploaded to date, many with similar—and in some cases, even the same—names as the Carrisozas’ ballad. “I realize many other people have done this as well,” says José Luís Jr., adding, “I’m very happy that more people are adding their little grain of sand [to the effort]; often, it’s easier for musicians to express ourselves better through music. Our goal is to motivate Mexicans to unite and work towards a country free of corruption, violence, and organized crime,” he says, and if the diffusion of corridos videos online can help achieve that goal, he and his father will feel they have played a small part in the fight for justice.
If you’re interested in watching other corridos that have been written about the missing students, here are three more to get you started.