“What’s a corridor anyway?” Diaz defined for the audience that a corrido is simply a ballad. “A Mexican folk ballad. Songs that tell a story. Often with a tragedy in the middle and a moral at the end.” An epic song form introduced by Spanish colonizers—whose lyrical themes range from battles of the Mexican Revolution, the Cristero Rebellion, bandidos and generals, heroes, villains and horses, along with modern themes of drug-running, the immigration nightmares and losing loved ones to the north—that initially came to popularity during Mexico’s struggle for independence during the early 19th century. Diaz’s presentation provided an abridged history of corridos from Jose Alfredo Jimenez’s composition “Maria La Bandida” sung by Lola Beltran in the 1963 motion picture La Bandida to the narco-corridos of Los Tigres del Norte. Songs like “Contrabando y Traicion” which pay homage to the sharp vicissitudes of fortune encountered in the drug trade.
The evening could have ended disastrously. After Diaz’s presentation, the audience was crestfallen when he announced that the featured performer, Juan Aguilar, for reasons unknown was unable to perform. Grasping, Diaz queried, “Who are our musicians in the audience? Do we have anyone willing to sing?”
TIffany Alvarez—who occasionally performs with Tucson’s Mariachi Luz de Luna and erstwhile member of Los Angeles based all-female Mariachi Mujer 2000—and longtime Tucson musician Bobby Benton valiantly answered the call of duty, improvised a set of corridos, provided insightful anecdotes and saved the show.
Donning their guitarras, led by Alvarez’s confident vocals, together they performed a handful of songs with classic themes from the Mexican Revolution and folk hero Pancho Villa, including “El Siete Leguas.”
Highlight came when Benton, accompanied by Alvarez on guitar, sang “El Corrido de Nogales.” A song which commemorates an incident that allegedly took place in the ’20s towards the end of World War I, of a battle between “the Mexicans and the gringos,” along the border. “El Corrido de Nogales” appears on Heroes and Horses (Smithsonian Folkways Recordings 2002) music of the borderlands featuring Benton and kickass Tucson folklorist Big Jim Griffith, (Ph,D,, musician, co-founder of Tucson Meet Yourself and producer of the album).
An informative evening of history and music enough to inspire this writer to toss an imaginary sombrero aside, to dig a riding heel into the loam and shout skyward, “Viva La Revolucion!”