Long before the information superhighway brought news to every corner of the globe, word of events traveled the roads of old Mexico by way of wandering troubadours. Corridos told tales of revolutionary figures and their exploits and charted the course of daily life in a country roiled by conflict.
Musician Azul Barrientos will explore the century-long evolution of the corrido in a weekend program titled Los Caminos del Corrido, the latest in her ongoing series of Noche de Azul concerts. The free program will be livestreamed in English at 8 p.m. on Sept. 18 and in Spanish at 3 p.m. on Sept. 19.
As singer/songwriter-in-residence at the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center, Barrientos frequently weaves together music and the complex history of Mexican culture through her monthly concerts. Though the pandemic has forced her from a live performance to an online format, she has maintained this connection to her audience.
The livestream format allows her to perform a few songs live, interwoven with pre-recorded segments. “One thing that I do like about livestreaming is that it gives you that flexibility,” she said.
The corrido evolved from the earlier form known as coplas, a genre of Spanish folkloric four-verse song. In the early days of the 20th century, corridos expanded their ancestral form to tell the epic tales of Mexico’s revolutionary period in dramatic detail.
Barrientos will sing the “Corrido de la Muerte de Emiliano Zapata,” which reveals a part of the story not commonly told in popular histories of the agrarian hero who inspired the Zapatista guerillas: Zapata was betrayed by a fake defector named Jesus Guajardo.
“Zapata opens his arms to embrace Guajardo … welcoming him to his side. They hug and, shortly after, he gets killed,” Barrientos explained.
Corridos can also reflect stories much closer to home, as in Barrientos’ “Corrido Para Soledad,” written for her grandmother, whom she considers her personal heroine.
“She just went through so much and survived,” Barrientos said, including a stint in the Guerra Cristera (Cristero War) in her home state of Jalisco doing “things that I would never imagine a woman born in 1898 to do.”
Though Soledad Gutiérrez died 30 years before Barrientos was born, the song allows her to honor her family history.
She said her 23-year-old nephew listens to a different form of corrido known as corrido tumbado, also called trap corrido, a modern update that brings the 19th-century tradition into the 21st century.
Barrientos hopes her concert will demonstrate the strength of the corrido to adapt to life as it is lived in Mexico through the centuries.
One corrido about the border tells the story of a family desperate for money that turns to smuggling when they get to Del Rio. The song, originally from the 1920s, isn’t specific about what they are smuggling, one reason it sounds like it could have been written in the 2020s, she said.
Throughout the program, she said, “we learn how a corrido is still a strong tool to listen to the stories that have been passed down to us that maybe we didn’t hear, or we didn’t read in the history books.”