Folklorist Big Jim Griffith tells us about the history of corridos. from Arizona Illustrated, May 14, 2001
Bill Buckmaster: Big Jim Griffith with his "Weekly Traditions" segment. Dr. Griffith is a Research Associate with the University of Arizona-based Southwest Center.
Dr. James S. Griffith: A lot of them start off with a phrase like [speaking Spanish] Gentlemen, I'm going to sing you a ballad. Or they set the time and place for action. [singing in Spanish] Which of course simply means on March 17th in the city of Agua Prieta. What I'm talking about is corridos, Mexican ballads. They have an ancient, ancient pedigree. They are ancestor of the romances of renaissance and medieval Spain but very much a thing of here and now, because Mexicans and Mexican-Americans in Southern Arizona and Sonora remember and know about and sing and compose corridos on almost any kind of topic. Anything that happens in the news affecting that community is liable to get a corrido written about it. The death of the El Salvadorians a few years ago out in the desert; the Clifton-Morenci strike, all of these had corridos on them. Horse races, murders, court cases of any kind much importance. Anything that affects the population has a ballad, at least one, written on it. Even favorite towns - a Corrido de Nogales and a Corrido de Tucson. And some of them aren't remembered, some of them are just written. Some of them get sung for a long time. Some of them are still remembered after 50 years. But whatever they are, they are a very, very important part of our borderland heritage.
Listen to a segment from NPR's Weekend All Things Considered, Sunday, March 31, 2002, in which Jacki Lyden speaks with Tucson's folklorist Jim Griffith about corrido music. Dr. Griffith has compiled an audio CD of corridos Heroes and Horses: Corridos from the Arizona-Sonora Borderlands. The NPR segment streams from the NPR Web site as RealPlayer.
Watch video of Dr. Griffith's segment on KUAT's Arizona Illustrated about the race between el Moro and Relámpago. The corrido about the race is called "El Moro de Cumpas." The composer of the corrido was Leonardo Yañez, whose nickname was "el Nano," short for Leonardo. For more information on this piece of Borderlands history look in Dr. Griffith's book A Shared Space: Folklife of the Arizona-Sonora Borderlands, Logan: Utah State University Press, 1995. In the book, Dr. Griffith devotes a full chapter on el Moro and el Nano.
"Sonoran musicans Don Beto Cruz and Jesús García share a Mexican corrido about a racehorse, who lost the race but kept his fame and following, at the 2008 Gathering in Elko."
Contributed by Serra Fox & Osama Solieman
Mus 334 Professor Sturman
October 10, 2002
The corrido is a narrative song or ballad whose characters, events, and themes represent the values and history of the Mexican culture both in Mexico and the southwestern states of the United States. Corridos are often used to tell the tales of past heroes, such as Poncho Villa or more recently Cesar Chavez. They are also used to discuss important issues such as immigration and justice. The purpose of this oral tradition was, and still is, to keep history as an active part of the Mexican-American society and culture.
The corrido emerged sometime between 1848 and 1860. The appearance of Anglo settlers and the eventual annexation of the Southwest, as a result of the Mexican-American War, brought about the perfect platform for a manifestation of political anxieties and events through music. During this time, corridos told stories of Mexican heroes who defied Anglo lawmen. This era marked the rise of the hero corrido, a tradition that continues to this day.
The corrido can be traced to the Spanish romance, a classic poetic formthat dates back to the 1500s. Both forms utilize four-line stanzas and an a-b-c-d rhyme pattern. The corrido is commonly set to a simple tune with a waltz- or polka-type rhythm. They are usually played in major keys, and sung in a short range, generally less than one octave. The small range allows performers to sing at the top of their voice, a common trait of the corrido style.
During the Mexican Revolution the corrido became a popular way to spread news about adventures and battles relating to the war. Later in the 20th century some corridos, were written about fictitious events. The contemporary corrido tells of such current events as drug smuggling, terrorism, and illegal migration. One thing, however, remains constant; corridos are a means of communicating stories about real life.
In Tucson, the corrido has been showcased in such events as The Annual Corrido Competition hosted by the Tucson Meet Yourself Festival. This competition began in the late 1970's with grant assistance from the Arizona Humanities Council. What began as a one-year event turned into a 15-year tradition. The "Gran Concurso de Corridos", which always drew a crowd for the festival on Saturday afternoon, attracted participants from ages five to seventy-seven. Although most of these participants were from southern Arizona, there were also representatives from other places such as northern Sonora and even New Mexico. While competitors were encouraged to perform original corridos, traditional songs were also sung. This very popular event of the Tucson Meet Yourself Festival came to an end in the early 1990's, but there is a possibility that the Corrido Competition will return to the festival again in 2003. The competition, which attracted local radio stations to broadcast the event live during its run, has been missed over the last few years and its return would undoubtedly be met with strong support from the Tucson community.
Jim Griffith, Heroes & Horses - Corridos From the Arizona-Sonora Borderlands; Smithsonian Folkways Recordings; Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage.
Dickey, Dan W., The Handbook of Texas Online, <http://www.tsha.utexas.edu>
Mexican Airwaves Carry Song of Terrorism, <http://www.reporternews.com>
Elena Chabolla, "Musical Storytellers," Arizona Daily Star, April 5, 2002.
Interview, Dr. Celestino Fernandez.
Gale Free Resources - "The Corrido and the Cancion": <http://www.galegroup.com/free_resources/chh/music/cancion.htm>
Mexico Connect -"The Music of Mexico": <http://www.mexconnect.com/mex_/musicmex.html>
PBS -"The Border | 1900 Corridos": <http://www.pbs.org/kpbs/theborder/history/timeline/13.html>
"Mario Celis and the Corrido"
Contributed by Jesse Greer
MUS 334 Professor Sturman
September 9, 2002
Mario Celis is a disk jockey for 1040 KETV radio in Tucson, Arizona. He shares his knowledge of Latin music at Tucson arts events such as the free Art Encounter he led prior to the performance at Centennial Hall by the salsa/cumbia star Jaime Camil.
On October 9, 1982, Mario Celis competed alongside six other singers in a corrido competition. The event was held at the annual Tucson Meet Yourself (TMY), a celebration of the culture, food and music of many different cultures. The collection of musicians sang and played a variety of corridos in different styles. Mario chose to perform a selection entitled "Corrido del Burro Mojado". This song tells the story of a Mexican donkey that crosses the border because he is in love with an American donkey. Burro mojado means wet donkey in English. The term "wet" (wetback) is sometimes used by anglos to describe Mexican laborers in the U.S, generally with derogatory implications. In this corrido the donkey improves his status by gaining citizenship and lives happily ever after with his love in Phoenix. The song seems to be a metaphor for many Mexicans who long to find themselves in this very same position.
The corrido has its roots in the poetic traditions of the Spanish romance, a kind of lyric poetry dating back to the 1500s. Many of the first corridos documented the the hardships experienced by working-class people during the Mexican-American war. Since then, corridos have continued to address the gritty realities of life in Mexico and along the Mexican border. They relate real life stories concerning situations defiance and oppression. Today, corridos may address topics such as drug trafficking, unfaithful wives, and corrupt government officials. As performed by contemporary norteño and Tex-Mex conjunto musicians corridos can be found at the top of the radio charts. Corridos circulate as folkloric tradition and also as an integral part of the contemporary multi-million dollar commercial recording industry.
"Hector Vega Corrido del Tiradito"
Contributed by Joe Little
Music 334 Professor Sturman
14 October 2002
"Corrido del Tiradito, " sung by Hector Vega was recorded at the Tucson Corrido Competition in 1993 where Vega and a host of other musicians showed off their musical talents. In the narrative accompanying this recording we learn that Hector Vega takes an enormous amount of pride in his ethnicity and homeland. Hector explains that every time he strums his guitar, he not only sings for his audience, but he is representing his family as well as Mexican culture. Vega's songs tell stories of honest, hard-working Mexicans who live hard lives, yet continue to persevere through dismal times.
Corrido Competition, October 9, 1982 TMY-1982/R10 - TMY-1982/R11
Participants: Saul Gallegos, Raúl Aguirre, Hector Vega, Jack Baker, Mario Celis, and Marco Antonio
Corrido Competition, October 9-11, 1987 TMY-1987/R15-R16