Contrabando y traición

Angel Gonzalez, ca. 1972

What is drug smuggling? What is the Drug Enforcement Agency?

What is norteña music? What is a narcocorrido?

Why do you think narcocorridos are controversial?

Do you think the song is a warning against the dangers of smuggling or a celebration of smuggling?

"Contrabano y traición" performed by Los Tigres del Norte on Leyenda y Tradición - Los Mejores Corridos de los Jefes de Jefes, © 2009. Available on iTunes, Spotify, and YouTube.


For more information on Los Tigres del Norte, visit their official website.

Rights have not been secured to reprint the words for this song. Please consult this online source

"Contrabando y traición" was the first widely popular narcocorrido, a genre of Spanish-language song that deals with smuggling drugs across the United States' border with Mexico. Extensive smuggling of illegal substances across the US southern border dates to the period of the prohibition of alcohol that followed the ratification of the Eighteenth Amendment. When the amendment was repealed in 1933, Lucky Luciano and other Mexican smugglers turned to heroin and, later, cocaine and methamphetamines. When "Contrabando y traición" was recorded and released, drug trafficking was a controversial political issue in the United States. Measures to curtail illegal immigration were debated, and in 1973 President Nixon reorganized disparate drug enforcement programs into the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Tapping into the day's politics, "Contrabando y traición" made the band Los Tigres del Norte very popular. The band consists of the brothers Jorge, Raúl, and Hernán Hernández and their cousin Oscar Lara. In 1968 they traveled from their home state of Sinaloa in Mexico to the San José, California, to play in the Mexican Independence Day Parade. After a few concerts in the Bay Area, the teenagers were taken under the wing of Art Walker, who founded the first Spanish-language record company on the West Coast, Fama Records. Walker encouraged them to modernize their sound and record their music. Calling themselves Los Tigres Del Norte (Tigers of the North), the musicians played norteña music, a style that combines elements of Mexican folk song and popular music with polka rhythms and instruments. The instruments in Los Tigres Del Norte include drum set, accordion, saxophone, electric bass, guitar, and bajo sexto (a twelve-stringed guitar, tuned lower than a typical guitar).

Poster for the movie named after the song

Movie poster for Contrabano y Traición.

"Contrabando y traición" is a simple narrative ballad, like the traditional corrido, that tells the story of the romantically engaged smugglers Camelia la tejana (Camelia the Texan) and Emilio Varela. After selling their drugs in Hollywood, Emilio tells Camelia that he is leaving her, at which point she shoots him and steals his money. As ethnomusicologist Jonathan Sauceda points out, unlike later narcocorridos, which tend to glamorize the drug trade, "Contrabando y traición" portrays "narcotics as amoral or immoral … [for] the ending … could be read as a warning not to engage in smuggling or the fate of Emilio could be one's own" (Sauceda, p. 430).

The song was so popular that in 1976 it was made into a movie of the same name. The song is often referred to as "Camelia la Tejana," which was the film's subtitle. The year the film was released, Los Tigres del Norte also released the corrido "Vivan Los Mojados" (Long Live the Wetbacks), which secured their reputation as spokesmen for illegal immigrants. For more on Los Tigres del Norte and immigration, see "El Deportado," in Unit 7, and "Somos Mas Americanos," in Unit 10.



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