Crime and Violence

Organized crime members pose threat to Mexican narcocorrido singers

Tito Torbellino. Photo: El Universal, Facebook.
Tito Torbellino. Photo: El Universal, Facebook.

06/09/14 (written by amacdonald) — Singers of “narcocorridos” in Tijuana, Mexico have been under threat in recent weeks from organized crime group members. Narcocorridos­—a genre of music in Mexico that focuses on the exploits of drug cartel members, often glorifying the drug trade and criminal lifestyles—are sometimes seen as unpopular among cartels as they draw positive and negative attention to the criminal organizations and their rivals. As such, two Tijuana-based singers were targeted at the end of May for their narcocorridos, resulting in the one’s murder.

On May 28, six armed gunmen killed Tomás Tovar Rascón, better known as Tito Torbellino, as he dined at a restaurant in Ciudad Obregón, Sonora. Born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona with his music career based out of Tijuana, Baja California, Tito (30) entered the music scene at an early age, and began writing narcocorridos out of a desire to create a true-to-life representation of the situation in Mexico. According to El Universal, Tito had defended his music in the past in the face of organized crime threats, saying that his music was only based on facts and historical incidences, and never on fabricated stories. The singer had described his music as “full of energy, with writing that goes much deeper than [the words] initially suggest.” Using his popularity, he also brought light to drug trafficking issues through social media and newspapers. Mexican musicians commented on the murder of their colleague, mourning Tito’s death while recognizing the inherent threat that exists for narcocorrido singers. “When someone wants to hurt you,” said popular narcocorridos band Los Tucanes de Tijuana, “they are going to do it no matter what precautions you take.”

The week before Tito’s murder, another Tijuana-based singer, Gerardo Ortiz, was threatened by the organized crime group La Maña for writing songs supporting Sinaloa Cartel’s Alfonso “El Aquiles” Azarte García, a highly sought after drug trafficker in Mexico and the United States, and his brother, Rene, alias “La Rana.” Days before Ortiz performed a concert in the Monumental Plaza de Toros de Playas in Tijuana on May 24, La Maña hung a narcobanner (narcomensaje) from a public bridge in the city’s El Mirador neighborhood, threatening to kill Ortiz if he sang narcocorridos dedicated to El Aquiles and La Rana. Nevertheless, Ortiz performed his show as usual, without any incidence or attack. This was not the first time Ortiz has been threatened, though. According to Proceso, an armed group attacked Ortiz following a show in Colima, which led to the deaths of his agent and chauffer; and just days before that, six people were killed in an attack in after Ortiz’s show in Sinaloa.

Tito Torbellino’s murder and the continued threats to Ortiz exemplify the risk singers face when performing narcocorridos. This is also not the first attack on an artist. Although they never performed narcocorridos, at least 17 musicians and staff from the Mexican group Kombo Kolombia were killed in January 2013 after a group of armed men intervened at an after party in Hidalgo.


García-Palafox, Galia. “Sinaloa Cartel Approves Movimiento Alterado’s Drug Ballads.” Huffington Post, Associated Press. December 21, 2011.

“Kombo Kolombia band executed in Nuevo León.” Justice in Mexico. January 31, 2014.

Monroy, Erika. “Tucanes De Tijuana, Tristes Por Muerte De Tito Torbellino.” El Universal. May 29, 2014.

“Ahora Amenazan De Muerte a Cantante De Narcocorridos En Baja California.” Proceso. May 30, 2014.

Redacción. “Tito Sabía Que Su Vida Estaba En Riesgo.” El Universal. May 31, 2014.

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