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Social Status Counts

While our other author [1] reads the anti-violence music video «La Bala» by Mexican norteño stars Los Tigres Del Norte [2] as an «important statement of their continuing evolution» and as «a testament that they have grown older and wiser», Jorge Verdin states below, that «La Bala» is «toothless and tame». He mentions that the video «does not address the issue of poverty as one of the factors that may lead to a life of crime». From the Norient book «Seismographic Sounds» (see and order here [3]).

Film still from Los Tigres Del Norte (Music), Sergio Arau (Video): «La Bala» (USA/Mexico 2014)

Norteño and banda music and the narco lifestyle often share many base interests: women, cars, houses, weapons, alcohol, drugs, power, and the money with which to buy it all. Sure, these building blocks of universal machismo can be found in many songs around the globe. In fact, norteño and banda music are very similar to gangsta rap: music as an aspirational shopping list of commodities for the disenfranchised and dispossessed. It provides a reason and an inspiration for people wanting to transcend their lower class status. Thus, a video clip against violence necessitates consideration of the social status of the people involved.

In «La Bala», an anti-gun and anti-violence song by Los Tigres Del Norte, I do not see any hardship evidenced in either the lyrics or the video. The main narrator seems to have a steady job and his children are being provided with a good education. The youngest son appears to be a model student. Their house seems nicer than the typical home an average income Hispanic family could afford. This is a middle-class home in a nice neighborhood.

The older son becomes spoiled. The father – so the narrator sings – granted him every whim because he didn’t want to upset him. This again does not sound like a father that is barely getting by paycheck to paycheck. For this father, money is a secondary issue. The eldest son has become disrespectful. He locks himself in his room, checks out guns on the Internet and apparently builds an arsenal. Inexplicably, he is approached by what appear to be drug dealers to be part of their operation. He becomes a narco trainee not out of economic necessity, but as an afterschool activity to avoid boredom.

Film still from Los Tigres Del Norte (Music), Sergio Arau (Video): «La Bala» (USA/Mexico 2014)

The crucial scene is classic Mexican melodrama. The youngest son – inspired by his brother – picks up a colorful toy gun as he’s leaving for school, but he never makes it there: he is caught in the crossfire of a revenge drive-by, organized by his older brother. There is a glaring discrepancy in the video, as the older brother is seen pulling the trigger, but the lyrics portray him mainly as orchestrating the crime. Either way, the father – and singer – laments the loss of both his sons, two more casualties of the drug wars, one as victim and one as a trigger man for the cartels.

As a protest song, I find «La Bala» to be toothless and tame. It does not address the issue of poverty as one of the factors that may lead to a life of crime. But more importantly in this case, it does not account for the ethically suspect role that norteño and banda music play in glorifying the narco lifestyle.

This video is part of the Norient exhibition «Seismographic Sounds» [4] and this commentary was published first in the correspondent Norient book [5]. Click on the image to know more.

Read More on Norient:

> «The Voice of the Mexican People» [1] by Elijah Wald