LOS ANGELES: R.I.P. Chalino Sanchez

Perhaps the most influential musical figure to emerge out of Los Angeles in a generation was Chalino Sanchez, who was found shot to death 20 years ago today outside Culiacan, the capital city of his native state of Sinaloa, Mexico.

An unlettered immigrant who spoke no English, he virtually singlehandedly created the narcocorrido genre of music, with songs he composed himself that act today as an oral history of the lawless ranchos — villages — of Sinaloa, Durango, Chihuahua and other northwest Mexican states, where impunity and drug trafficking were rife.

On May 15, 1992, he’d given a show in Culiacan and gone out afterwards with friends. A group of men dressed as policemen stopped the caravan of cars and took Chalino. His body was found in a field the next day with two bullets in his head.

Sanchez was already an underground star in LA by then. His death confirmed his street cred and he became a phenomenon. He is today a legend and well known to kids who weren’t even born when he was alive.

Chalino also did the impossible by making tubas, accordions and clarinets hip and cool instruments, so much so that young Latino kids would blast tuba- and accordion-based polkas from their trucks as they drove down the streets of towns in southeast LA County. Still do.

Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of LA-born kids followed him, becoming narcocorrido singers and sounding and looking just like the master.

I’ve always felt, though, that they imitated the wrong part of Chalino — his dress, his raw style of singing. Instead, the point of Chalino’s life, I’ve always thought, was to follow your own vision, your own way of doing things. People would tell him to shut up, that he couldn’t sing. “I don’t sing; I bark,” he said, fully aware of his own musical shortcomings. But he kept on, trusting his own experience and ability. he wrote corridos from the people he met in LA; recorded them in small studios, then sold the cassettes of these songs at Mexican bakeries, butcher shops and at swap meets.

DIY — that’s how great things are accomplished.

The narcocorrido scene he fathered in LA was one of the great DIY musical movements to come out of LA. First was punk, in Hollywood. Then gangster rap out of Compton. Then narcocorridos out of Huntington Park, Paramount, and other southeast LA County cities.

You can read more about him in my first book, True Tales From Another Mexico: The Lynch Mob, the Popsicle Kings, Chalino and the Bronx.

There’s a concert in his honor on Friday at the Gibson Amphitheater, which should be great, and a tour coming out of that later this year.

A great punkrock spirit. RIP Chalino Sanchez.

3 Comments

Filed under Culture, Los Angeles, Mexico

3 Responses to LOS ANGELES: R.I.P. Chalino Sanchez

  1. Pingback: 10 Artists/Music Genres Mexicans Love that American Music Critics Ignore 'Cause They're Too Obsessed with Morrissey ~ L.A. TACO

  2. tomas angel melchor

    I enjoyed your article , I grew up in El Mero Weso, San Anto, Tx worked as a migrant for three years , joined the Navy got out in San Francisco. Hung out in North Beach in Beatnik Coffeehouses, than move to the Haight- Ashbury before the Hippy explosion. I saw the Dead Kennedys and MDC in 1984 during the Democratic Convention. In 1982 I saw Black Flag at the Mercury Cafe in Denver. In 1989 I want to New York and squatted at Dos Blockos Squat in the Lower East Side, New York.I call myself Class War Photographer. I been an activist since I got out of the Navy. I was jailed numerous times during the 60’s for antiwar demos. http://www.flickr.com/textmex is where you can find my photos or tomas angel melchor, Facebook. ojolibre at Instagram.

  3. Efren

    I’ve been following your work for a long time, Mr. Quinones, especially the narco corrido stuff. I still read Sing Now, Die Later on a regular basis, I like the way you captured the humble beginnings of Chalino Sanchez. Growing up in San Diego and listening to him before he died, I was able to whitness how his legend grew and how he influenced so many of his young and older listeners. Keep up the awesome work!

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