In the new documentary Narco Cultura, filmmaker and photojournalist Shaul Schwarz follows the lives of two men living out very different versions of Mexico’s drug war. One of these men, a Mexican crime scene investigator named Richi Soto, spends his days picking up bodies in Juarez, Mexico, a city just a short walk from the U.S border. Since the drug war came to Juarez about six years ago, more than 10,000 people have been murdered (the city averages 8 a day), including some of Richi’s colleagues. He wears a mask when he’s at a crime scene to avoid being identified and targeted by the cartels.
The second character in Narco Cultura, a Los Angeles-based singer named Edgar Quintero, makes his living writing narcocorridos: drug ballads written for and about the Mexican drug lords. These songs celebrate the cartels and tell stories of heroic, bazooka-wielding traffickers beheading their rivals and kidnapping people. As Edgar puts it in the film: “If it weren’t for all the violence in Mexico, we wouldn’t have such bad-ass corridos.”
As the violence in Juarez has exploded, so has the popularity of narcocorridos. The music has spawned a big club scene in the U.S. and you can find narcocorrido CDs at Walmart and Target. Narco culture is especially popular among Mexican teenagers. Schwarz told me, “It would be hard for you to go to a quinceañera,” a traditional Mexican party for 15-year-old girls, “without hearing a narcocorrido.”
Shaul Schwarz has been covering the drug war in Mexico since 2008, and he spoke with us last week about the violence in Juarez, the rising popularity of narcocorridos, and the perils of filming with drug traffickers in Mexico. Narco Cultura is Schwarz’s first feature-length documentary and it’s in theaters now.
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