Blog dedicated to reporting on Mexican drug cartels
on the border line between the US and Mexico

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Kombo Kolombia: Death to the Beat of the Music, Being a Musician in Mexico

Note: We had to repost this post by Vato due to technical difficulties...but is all his and Sanjuana Martinez'
By Sanjuana Martinez La Jornada (2-3-2013)
Translated by Un Vato Borderland Beat
Drugs and violence in Monterrey; at their funerals, they said goodbye to the 17 musicians with vallenato songs. 

"Se fue una voz / Se fue un amigo / Se fue el cantor"
"A voice went away/ A friend went away/ The singer went away".....  
...Says the vallenato that echoes in the San Jorge municipal cemetery in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, where they buried 17 members of the Kombo Kolombia group to the rhythm of Colombian music; a sound linked to poverty, that in its beginnings belonged to gang members and drug addicts and  began to spread socially until it entered the musical world of some organized crime groups.
Monterrey is considered the world's second capital of vallenato, after Valledupar, Colombia;  music that began to be heard during the sixties thanks to musicians from the San Luisito barrio, in Colonia Independencia, then became a subculture for thousands of young people, most of them from poor neighborhoods.
In spite of the violence, the festive scope of this rhythm allowed, not without some risk, a hundred groups like Kombo Kolombia to liven afternoon and evening dances in bars, clubs and dance halls, but the slaughter of musicians, more than 60 in recent years, has generated fear and an exodus from this type of work
"I'm not going to play music any more, I'm just going to keep my job as a laborer," says guitarist Abraham Galvan, El Bubu, with the group Luz de Cumbia, who, looked for work in a factory some months ago because of the insecurity: "They give me one thousand pesos a week (eighty dollars), very little, but it's preferable. It's better to leave it (the music) than to always be at risk. Around here, one can no longer be a musician."
The Monterrey vallenato
He's waiting with a guitar for the funeral procession for his friends: Javier Flores Valencia, Jose Francisco Jimenez Diaz and Jose Francisco Rostro, three members of the Kombo Kolombia with whom they formed several groups: "I just came from burying my cousin in Santa Catarina. His name was Edgar Dimas and he played the trombone. We had planned to get together this weekend, but they took him from us, they took them away."

Kombo Kolombia had been together for three years, but before that, they had a group called Lamento Colombiano: "They were good kids, like us. It hurts to hear people say they were going bad, it hurts that they did that to them. We're all going to die some day, but they didn't deserve to die the way they did," says the guitarist.
The slaughter of the 17 members of the group in a ranch in Mina, Nuevo Leon, where they were thrown into a well, has left the musician community worried. One hypothesis by the authorities is that the Kombo Kolombia group was hired by Los Zetas and the Gulf cartel went to the La Carreta bar and killed them in retaliation; another is that the musicians owed money to Los Zetas and were massacred by them.
"If it was one of their parties, one doesn't have any reason to know about it, one is working; we're going after a little cash to take home, you know what I mean? We don't ask where we're going, we just go there to play. We're just trying to take something home so we can eat."
Javier Flores played the accordion, and Armando Moreno, El Tartan, decided to give a last goodbye, singing and playing vallenato.
The day before the massacre he had called him to get together and do some drinking, but he couldn't go: "You can't ask for justice, because there isn't any. It's just coming here to see him off and sing the songs he used to like: "Se fue el cantante" ("The Singer is Gone") and "El adios" ("The Farewell"), and songs by Diomedes Diaz, like "La reina" ("The Queen").
Indignant, he asks: "You think that if they were doing stuff like that we would have buried them in this municipal cemetery, the poorest around? Money shows, even in the clothes. We are humble people, from the barrio, laborers, bricklayers. But we're going to leave the music for friends only, just among ourselves. There's fear."
For anthropologist and social worker Lorenzo Encinas, better known as Nicho Colombia for his radio music program, recently canceled because of the insecurity, that South American music was adopted by the gangs in the eighties.
He tells us that most of the musicians are self-taught and, despite the great universe it represents, this musical genre keeps on going in a casual way, without any recording company taking an interest in them. ...continues

Cumbia, drugs and entertainment
The "cholombiano" universe, from joining the words "cholos" and "Colombian" music, remains alive through pirated music and home-made productions.
In approximately 200 popular neighborhoods with more than 30,000 gang members, the Zetas discovered a "hotbed of sicarios (gunmen), addicts and drug pushers" and they took control of pirated media business and musical jobs:

"It wasn't the first time they played in those places. Their music is enjoyed by these types of organized crime groups. And although the music belongs to everybody, it can be an investigative lead."
Kombo Kolombia and other known groups in the city have performed in places where there have been massacres around the so-called "giros negros" (underground clubs) -- El Dorado, Sabino Gordo, and La Eternidad--: "There are many lessons here for the groups.
The sense of loss and fear is enormous. Musician employment has turned into a dangerous thing because they don't know what is going to happen at the parties. This last massacre marks a before and after, it affects the entire world of Colombian music in Monterrey."
Dances during the week, Saturdays and Sundays were held in dance halls such as San Nicolas, Escobedo, Santa Catarina, San Bernabe, Guadalupe or Apodaca... places converted into genuine marijuana burnings where all kinds of good quality and low cost drugs can be found: "Certainly, drugs are a kind of symbolic violence. They (the youth) have suffered government neglect.
There is no public policy on youth matters, nor, more specifically, a policy on entertainment. Mainstream society is a party and they have not been invited, they have always been marginalized.

The same is true for their music, which remains a subculture, underground. And even though it moves millions of people of all types, it continues to be considered music for gangsters or drug users."
During the funerals, groups of friends of the 17 (dead) youths organized improvised concerts outside the funeral parlors or in the cemeteries.

The Monterrey style of Colombian dance is peculiar and different from the Colombian original; here, it even adopts a bent-over pose that simulates sniffing from a bag: "Kombo Kolombia became the favorite group of the Monterrey vallenata youth.

They played a "corralero" style of music, predominantly dance music, and it took off among the youth. They functioned as a group of friends, like everybody else. Nobody has a recording studio, they record their music during their performances."

The singer Ricardo Rodriguez began to play Colombian music since he was 16 years old. He started a group with Javier "El Paya," one of the executed Kombo Kolombia members, who played the keyboard and button accordions.
They called the group "Conquista Vallenata": "We won a contest and recorded a disc. Then we formed "Vallenatos de la Cumbia", and now we have "Escandalo Vallenato." In this world we all know each other. It's very hard to lose 17 friends in a single hit."
Playing wherever they hire us...
Percussionist Mario Alberto Navarro, 37 years old, stopped playing music a couple of years ago because of the risk it represents: "We don't know if they are Zeta parties or whatever; it's work.
Wherever the gig is, that's where we go, we don't ask who it's for. It's real difficult, that's why it's better to do something else," he says, commenting that he works in construction.
Drummer Jose Natividad Hernandez Torres, with 32 years of experience, walks along a path in the cemetery towards the grave of one of the members of Kombo Kolombia: "They accuse us of playing for the bad guys. If they hire us, we have to work to support our family. We demand justice, so this won't remain unpunished. After this massacre, there will be others, and we don't want to live in constant terror and fear."
Dressed the same, with  hat, vest, blue jeans and boots, Florentino Valdez and Chuy Rodriguez, of the group Jilgueros del Norte, tell us that a musician's job is considered "high risk" because they perform in ranches, towns and municipalities far from the cities: "You go out to play music and you don't know whether you'll come back."


  1. Why do these ignorant narco savages keep killing Musicians??

  2. Vato you know how to select the best articles that are important and not a sporting event choosing sides...another great job man. The videos are excellent I watched both and was impressed by the KK music. Nice, emphasis on percussion and wind, but trickles of guitar and other instruments, very tribal/south american.I thought they were corridos so I did not check them out I did so this post.

    Pardon me, because this question is off topic but I see you are a musician, can you share which instrument?

  3. @ 2:15: I select material that I believe will educate readers. But don't give me too much credit; without Chivis's contributions the articles would not be as valuable. I hesitate to call Chivis's contributions "help" because that would imply that my work is somehow more important; not the case.

    I'm a musician, primarily a singer and guitarist. Although classically trained, I have always considered myself a street musician, for lack of a better word. I tell people that my life's ambition is to learn all of Maestro Agustin Lara's songs, an impossible undertaking, but it keeps me focused.

    As you probably guessed, I understand first hand the life the musicians in this story describe. When you go somewhere to play, that's all you want to do-- play music, get people dancing, moving, feeling good. You don't care who pays you or what they do. It's a gig, brother, that's all that counts.

    1. To «un vato»

      Off topic - many moons ago I heard the rendition of «Noche de Ronda» by Mijares and I had it translated - it is simple & poetic on its own. I did not hear it again a few years ago with Luis Miguel on one of his «Romances» album. So every time I see or hear A. Lara's name/song it reminds me of the Golden era of Mexico's 1940's, Maria Felix & Veracruz. . .

      Great article & video clips - I'm still very moved by the recent tragic deaths by this group. . .

  4. Such narcissistic little girls these cartel panochas!! It's like "Well if you play with little Jose then you aren't MY friend", it's like a bunch of third graders running around with high powered assault rifles. Shit I've seen third graders that are more of a man and posses more intelligence than these fuck-offs. You're not a man just cause you got a gun joto, especially if you don't even know how to care and service the damn thing...

  5. Hi Vato-I don't usually speak up much, but like so many other readers, I'm also in awe of you and have been right from your start on Borderland Beat.
    Your stories are always so well-chosen, solid, and they are impeccably translated. I look forward to them, I've studied them and honestly, I've learned a lot from you. I figured it was time I came out of the shadows, took a bow in your shadow, and thanked you for all your hours of hard work. Keep up the good work. Sincerely, Havana

    1. 7:44 pm. I totally agree with your sentiments. This story touched my heartstrings. Senseless killings of talented musicans trying to maks an honest living. I spent many enjoyable holidays listening to many extremly talented musicans Who brought joy to many. My prayers go out to the families and friends. There are always lessons to be learned from these horrifying constant attacks of innocents. I would hope that the animals who buthered them are caught and made an example. As the craziness continues, I hope the people of Mexico will say, ENOUGH IS ENOUGH and do whatever it takes to retake this beautiful country and its people. Looking the other way,praising the drug cartels and giving them a free pass is unexceptable. Face your fears and do the right thing or 10 years from now if not sooner Mexico willl be a narco state. Just like what my country, Sicily became. Before the people said that's it, no more. It's not too late and I still have hope for Mexico!!! Thanks to all at BB who give us the stories we all need to hear and become part of the solution, not the problem. Texas Grandma, Peace to all.

  6. but, i'm trying to put my head around why is this scene so fucked, is it just about whatever or whomever has a nasty whim to target these guys, i mean musicians, i dont understand. why do these guys get hits put out on them. musicans are like messengers in a way so why kill the messenger? please someone shed some light about this, describe the enviornment that is behind the scenes with the music scene in mexico, is it like the underground groups or are the mainstream ones targeted too?

  7. this is fascinating, i dont know of anywhere else in the world where musicians have to live like this, these stories are so fucking out there...

  8. thugs kill anyone, no matter what. whether the hitmen are professional or not still they fail to kill the president. he must have top security team by his side, or the government is corrupt.

  9. I appreciate your kind words, Havana. There are so many talented Mexican writers who produce great material and who deserve a wider audience. I feel we have an obligation to do a good job translating their work. I wish I could do more.

  10. Re: "describe the enviornment that is behind the scenes with the music scene in mexico.."

    Answer: I am not a musician; however I think musical groups have to struggle against at least two dangers regarding the cartel people: 1st; If the music they perform is accepted and liked by "these ...", they will be asked to play at their parties, they will be paid enough and at large and will become "one of their favorites (of that cartel)", however it's easy for anyone to imagine that they "get a mark or stigma" which immediately will be known by "the other cartels". The second danger is that if "they" don't like the music of some given groups, they will send "visitors" to collect from them a monthly or "by event" payment (cuota). Well, that's the way I suppose it might be principally in small cities or in towns where people cannot depend on good authorities. (Someone might have the exact information).

  11. Are the sicarios paid by the head? They can come up with any excuse to kill someone, take a picture, collect payment and on to the next. If I was a cartel boss I would have to create incentives like that right?

  12. Vato:
    Thank you my friend. But really......

  13. Hey I thank all bb reporters who devote their time and energy on bringing these stories and keeping us informed as to the tragedies that keep plagueing mi querido Mexico I hope someday Mexico will return to the days of old when I traveled as a child to Mexico with my mother to visit my grandparents and had a great time with cousins and family the memories are so vivid but how the times have changed I pray someday someday peace to all.


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