Los Tigres del Norte, Mexico's superstar norteno band, abruptly canceled its participation Wednesday in a major awards show after it was barred from performing a song critical of the government's campaign against drug cartels.
The band, best known for its corridos, or Spanish ballads, chronicling the legendary exploits of drug traffickers, had already traveled to Mexico City from homes in Los Angeles for Wednesday night's event. Organizers of the show insisted the band refrain from playing its latest single, "La Granja" ("The Farm"), the group's record label, Universal Music Group, said in a statement.
"They have to explain to us the reason for this censorship," Tigres leader Jorge Hernandez said, referring to the organizers.
"We always sing what the people want to hear, and what the people are living," added Hernandez, a vocalist who also plays the accordion that gives the Tigres their distinctive sound.
Los Tigres' repertoire spans four decades and includes so-called narcocorridos about drug smugglers. It is regarded as the first Mexican band to make the illicit business an acceptable topic in popular music. Critics complain that the music glorifies the drug trade, and a number of radio stations over the years have refused to air some cuts. Los Tigres, whose members come from the state of Sinaloa, have always maintained they are not apologists for traffickers, merely singing about reality.
Although narcocorridos catapulted Los Tigres to fame in the early 1970s, the Grammy-winning group has also built an enormous and loyal following -- especially in Los Angeles -- by writing and singing about poor immigrants and their hard lives.
"La Granja," Hernandez said, is a fable.
"The song speaks of all the problems in Mexico, through a fable with little animals," he said. "We wanted to deal with the problems our government has -- narcotics trafficking, the violence, what we already know about and live. There is nothing to offend anyone, it is simply a representation of what is happening to us."
In the song and a video accompanying it, fat pigs represent politicians who get rich on the backs of the people, and a vicious dog with fiery red eyes represents drug trafficking. A zorro, or fox (former President Vicente Fox), releases the dog and there is hell to pay, especially for peasant farmers who get caught in the middle.
Translated into English, the lyrics go:
Today we have, every day
Because they let the dog loose
And it all came tumbling down . . . .
The band sings that peasant farmers can't plant like they used to, a reference to the destruction of their marijuana and poppy fields, and can't escape the farm because of a huge fence -- the wall built on the U.S. border with Mexico. Finally the dog bites the farmer "even though he didn't agree" with the government's actions, and the farm -- Mexico -- ends up a virtual wasteland.
The Mexican Interior Ministry, which oversees broadcast regulations, issued a statement denying "categorically" it had ordered the song censored.
The event that Los Tigres had been scheduled to attend was the prestigious Las Lunas (Moons) award ceremony at Mexico City's National Auditorium. In addition to performing, the band was to receive a prize. Organizers later Wednesday rescinded their ban and invited Los Tigres to perform anything it wanted, but the band said it was too late.
Cecilia Sanchez of The Times' Mexico City Bureau contributed to this report.