Cancun is Banning ‘Narco’ Concerts as Violence Soars

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El Komander poses for pictures prior to some music awards on August 11, 2015 in Mexico City, Mexico. Photo by Luis Ortiz/Clasos/LatinContent via Getty Images (L). A member of the Tourist Security Battalion of the National Guard stands guard at a beach in Cancun on December 2, 2021 (R). Photo by ELIZABETH RUIZ/AFP via Getty Images

MEXICO CITY – As crime continues to surge in the popular Mexican tourist resort city of Cancun, the local government declared that it will no longer allow concerts by some of the country’s most popular musicians because they “promote violence.”

Concerts scheduled for Alfredo Ríos, known more commonly by his stage name El Komander, and the band Grupo Firme, were canceled in Cancun. El Komander and Grupo Firme are two of the most famous acts in the massively popular narcocorrido subgenre, a traditional kind of Mexican folk ballad that narrates the exploits and lives of drug traffickers.

“We will not continue to allow people to promote apologizing for violence. Of course, we respect freedom of expression, but we cannot continue to encourage events that promote violence,” said the general secretary of the Cancun City Council Jorge Aguilar Osorio in a video statement on Twitter that announced the ban on Sunday. “Public shows should not promote any type of violence and, unfortunately, we have had incidents every time there are these types of concerts.”

Although both El Komander and Grupo Firme are renowned for their love ballads and party music, their connection to organized crime often overshadows their more commercial songs. In January 2022, a video went viral of Grupo Firme singing a song at a party about Ovidio Guzmán, the son of incarcerated kingpin Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán. El Komander also collaborated on arguably the most notorious narcocorrido track in recent history: Sanguinarios del M1 (roughly translated as M1’s Bloodthirsty Guys). 

Released in 2010, the song was a collaboration between the biggest narcocorrido singers of the time about a former Sinaloa Cartel boss named Manuel Torres, alias M1. The song ushered in a hyper-violent narcocorrido subgenre known as Movimiento Alterado, with lyrics that detail extremely violent acts committed by cartel members, referencing everything from incinerating enemies to beheadings.

“We’re the best at making people disappear. Always in a caravan, all my homies. Well armored, armed, and ready to execute,” El Komander sings in Spanish in the infamous track.

The ban took aim at prominent narcocorrido acts like El Komander and Grupo Firme, but it’s not exclusive to that controversial genre. On Saturday, a hip hop concert in Cancun headlined by Alemán and El Millonario was canceled at the last minute. Both artists are prominent players in Mexico’s burgeoning gangster rap scene. Alemán specifically has begun to break borders with his music, recording songs with U.S. hip hop superstars Snoop Dogg and B-Real of Cypress Hill in recent years.

Alemán released a video on social media lamenting the cancellation of his concert and said “it is not fair because we come to work” and “there are people who traveled from far away and paid for a ticket.”

“At my shows there are children who always get on stage to break dance with me, we come to have a good time and not hurt anyone. I have always spoken to them in my songs about getting ahead, looking for success, looking for a better quality of life,” said Alemán. “Truthfully, I feel that this law that they have here is imposed against freedom of expression.”

The string of canceled concerts came after years of increasing crime and drug-related violence in the city of Cancun and throughout the state of Quintana Roo, famed for its pristine beaches and all-inclusive resorts. The uptick in bloodshed in the region is believed to be related to warring criminal groups fighting for control of everything from the internal drug markets to extortion rackets and people smuggling. In April, four people allegedly connected to the drug trade were found dead near a hotel in Cancun. Later that month eight bodies were discovered in clandestine graves hidden around the city.

The violence in the area has extended beyond the city to the neighboring tourist destinations of Playa del Carmen and Tulum. A shootout on the main drag in Tulum in October 2021 left two foreign tourists dead from stray bullets — a travel blogger from California and a German traveler.

The governor of Quintana Roo, Mara Lezama, expressed her support for the concert ban.

“We promote peace, a culture of values, the family, non-violence and the rejection of destructive attitudes.”

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