Headlines, Human Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean

MEXICO: Soundtrack to Violence

Emilio Godoy

MEXICO CITY, Apr 2 2010 (IPS) - “What a sad childhood Juanito had/ when shooting started in his barrio/ he was left lying on the ground/ so young/ he went to his grave”.

This is a verse from “Carlitos”, one of the songs of the Mexican hip hop group MC Crimen from Ciudad Juárez in the north of the country, on the U.S. border.

“Carlitos” was nominated for best song in the Juárez City Hip Hop Awards in November.

MC Crimen forms part of a growing rap and hip hop movement, along with bands like Delezeta, Versenarios or Escuadrón Kon Klase, all of which are from Ciudad Juárez, one of the cities in Mexico caught up in an escalation of drug-related killings as cartels engage in turf wars and the army and the police crack down on drug gangs.

The emergence of hip hop groups is a response by youngsters in Ciudad Juárez to the spiral of killings in the city, where hundreds of young men and women have been slain in the last few years.

“Dreams, the family, the neighbourhood, the city, life, war and politics are some of the themes of the stories told by this music,” Argentine documentary-maker Luciano Larobina told IPS.

Larobina directed “Havanyork”, a 2009 film on the hip hop scene in New York and Havana.

In 2008, more than 5,000 youngsters between the ages of 15 and 29 were killed in Mexico, 25 percent of them in seven border cities, according to the National Institute of Statistics and Geography.

That year, Ciudad Juárez, in the state of Chihuahua, had a homicide rate of 130 per 100,000 population – a rate that went up to 191 per 100,000 in 2009, making it the deadliest city in the world, with an even higher murder rate than Baghdad in U.S.-occupied Iraq, the Citizen Council for Public Security and Criminal Justice reported.

According to press reports, 460 people under the age of 25 and 900 under 35 were killed by firearms in Ciudad Juárez in 2008.

Some 8,000 federal police and soldiers were deployed in Joint Operation Chihuahua, launched by the Mexican government in early 2008 in response to drug-related violence in the state, where powerful cartels are disputing the smuggling routes to the lucrative U.S. drug market.

Hip hop songs “represent a generational alternative to the narco corridos,” wrote Sergio González, a columnist for the Reforma newspaper. “And although the music deals with a range of issues, there is a tendency towards telling stories or being ironic about mundane events of daily life.”

The narco corridos, which are based on the real lives of drug smugglers, are a controversial genre of music popular in Mexico since the 1990s.

Like rap music, narco corridos have been accused of glamorising violence and drug consumption.

But hip hop, which first emerged among inner-city African-American youths in the U.S., “is more than a genre of music or dance. It is a social movement,” says a 2004 U.N.-HABITAT (United Nations Human Settlements Programme) report.

“It is both a product of, and a reaction to globalisation. It represents a strong political statement. The most popular artists and groups are often those who rap about critical social, economic and environmental issues and who play an active role in their respective communities,” adds the report by Nicholas You.

In December, MC Crimen songs were played at the funeral of several youngsters murdered in Ciudad Juárez.

“The rebellious and anti-establishment lyrics invite people to reflect on the counterculture and on parallel realities that emerge under any system of government,” said Larobina, who also directed the documentary “Los zapatos de Zapata” (Zapato’s Shoes) in 2000, which features interviews with people who personally knew the Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata.

Mexican groups like MC Crimen have followed in the footsteps of Latin American hip hop bands like Santa Mafia, which emerged in 2001 in Bogotá, Colombia and has cut two albums.

Hip hop bands “forge connections among different musical groups and comprise a collective response with a strong local impact,” said González, who published “Huesos en el desierto” (Bones in the Desert) in 2005, a book on the unsolved killings of hundreds of women in Ciudad Juárez in the last 15 years.

In the latest incident of mass killing of young people, 10 youngsters between the ages of eight and 21 were killed by unidentified gunmen on Mar. 28 in the state of Durango, north of the Mexican capital.

“Listen look and shut up/ or you could die from the bullets of a metra-tra-tralla (machine gun)”, MC Crimen sing.

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