The History of the Corrido

            In El Corrido Mexicano, Vicente Mendoza defines the corrido as “an epic-lyric narrative genre, in quartets of variable rhyme, either assonant or consonant in paired verses...” set to a musical form. While the origins of the corrido remain a debated and controversial topic, the corrido has significantly affected both Mexican and Mexican-American culture. One primary debate proves the argument of whether the corrido “Kiansis”, written circa the late 1860’s in the southwest regions of Texas, exists as the first corrido, or if the legend of Joaquin Murrieta that cites 1853 as its date exists as the first corrido.

            The corrido often proves a source of entertainment for listeners, even though the song topics found within this form denote tribunal historic events and malicious characters. Moreover, the corrido serves to provide one with a sense of cultural identity and pride; for, this form unites listeners through its powerful lyrics that enable the preservation of past cultural events and family ancestry. However, the corridor does not aim to inform the public of an event, rather it offers an interpretation of certain well known past events that should exist as common-knowledge to the community.

            The topics found within this musical genre incorporate themes expanding past the Mexican and Mexican-American community. The gamut of topics ranges from corridos about love and cultural clashing to drug smuggling and immigrational issues. More notably, there are even corridos that promote a certain figure (fictional or factual) to the realm of cultural iconicity, as seen in such famous corridos of Joaquin Murrieta and Gregorio Cortez. Below are some common topics found in Corridos:

  • Cruel Mother

  • Robin Hood characterization

  • Infifidelity and Suduction

  • Religious or Biblical

  • Folk Hero or Heroic action

  • Historic Events


            Taken from the from the Spanish verb correr, meaning “to run,” the corrido has an interesting structural form-- not uncommon to various forms of traditional Latin and Latin-American music. The typical corrido consists of eight quatrains that contain four to six lines, each of which is usually octosyllabic (8-syallables). While eight-syllables is considered standard for the typical corrido, some corridos may have as many as 20 syllables. The rhyme scheme usually exists in duple meter, where lines within the quatrain are paired in an either assonant or consonant-like manner. Corridos exhibit formulaic motifs and a general pattern exists for the construction of the ballad. These six characteristics or formulas most commonly occur in corridos:

  1. The corridista’s initial greeting to the public

  2. Place, data and name of the protagonist

  3. The formula that precedes the argument

  4. The message or moral to the story, a motif commonly seen as “Vuela, vuela palomita”

  5. The protagonist’s farewell

  6. The farewell of the corridista


            The imminent influence of the corrido has infiltrated many genres of Mexican and Mexican-American music. We will now show specific examples with an emphasis on four particular subgenres or subcategories. These include: Arpa Grande, Conjunto Norteño, Mariachi, and Tejano. Although each of these categories proves unique, they all exhibit the tradition of the corrido being passed on into new musical genres.


La Arpa Grande

By: Rebecca Hart

            In the hot lands of Michoacan, also known as the Tierra Caliente, there is quite a considerable amount of fame that is contributed to the traficantes, smugglers of controlled substances. Since having this fame of traficantes, it has spread into pop culture subjecting this theme the folklore, transforming them into corridos. There are many groups that come from these lands and have developed into different kinds of corridos and mariachi type bands.

            The Arpa grande is one kind of musical genre that is influenced from the corridos. One of these groups, Conjunto Alma de Apatzingan, provides a great example of what the Arpa grande consists of in its most authentic, vital, and purest form. “The repertoire of this conjunto de arpa is all encompassing and ranges from old traditional religious minuetes, to old time danzas, and includes lots of popular rancheras and canciones, as well as old and new corridos, and the very regional balonas” (Music of Mexico Volume 2) The musical instruments are the same as in the mariachi; also the use of harps and two kinds of violins: the vihuela and jarana are an intregal part of this type of music. Originally, the cords of the guitars, violins, harps were made from the intestines of pigs or just a combination of certain animals. Having a decent set of strings for the harps were important for the musicians because it serves as the center of this genre of music.

            Arpa grande stems from the corrido in the way that it narrates a story of a hero, its struggles and fight for the justification of civil rights. Both sing of pop culture and the lives of poor people. Not all songs have the six formulaic motifs, but it still have remnants of a true corrido. Another difference between the Arpa Grande is the addition of harps and violins. True corridos do not have that in their songs. The addition of harps and violins make it unique thus calling it Arpa Grande.

Corrido Vocabulary

  • Traficantes: smugglers of controlled substances

  • Planeca: regional geography from La Cuenca del rio Tepalcatepec and a small portion of the Balsas. This territory covers about 18,000 km2.

  • Minuetes: traditional religious songs of praise usually performed in Church in Mexico

  • Danzas: music for dancing

  • Balones: regional type of music which are humorous songs based on characters or events to make the audience laugh.

  • Arpa Grande: regional type of music that includes the harp and violin.

  • Vihuela and Jarana: names for two different violins.

  • CONJUNTO Spanish for "ensemble." Conjunto refers to South Texas-based music fueled by the accordion and the bajo sexto, a 12-string Spanish bass guitar.

  • NORTENO: Spanish for "northern." Norteno is conjunto's Mexican counterpart. A type of music relying on accordion and bajo sexto instrumentation.

  • POLKA: A fast rhythm that developed in Europe during the 19th century that became the basis for most Tejano and norteno music.

  • RANCHERA: A sentimental Mexican song form with romanticized lyrics about love or pastoral life.

  • TEJANO: Spanish for "Texan." Tejano is a hybrid of traditional Mexican rancheras, polkas and cumbias updated with blues, pop and country strains.


Música Tejana

By: Meagan Height


            The heritage of Texas reflects a diverse blend of cultures and people, a blend that has shaped this state’s history into a story that cannot be told without the presence of Mexico and the folklore inspired by the southern neighbor of Texas.

            In the late 17th century, Spanish settlers entered the area of present day Texas and created numerous home sites, missions, and pueblas. However, because of the southern location of the Rio Grande Valley, this particular area became more closely linked to Mexico and its states. The unique relationship of these land areas and the people residing in them spawned the birth of the Tejano, a Texan with Mexican heritage. The majority of such Texans enjoyed a life filled with manual labor, ranching, farming, and agricultural duties. To pass the days, many workers sang songs such as corridos that told important historical events of Mexico and early Texas life. These corridos had survived throughout the generations and sounded to the accompaniment of guitars, flutes, and small drums. Tejanos created new corridos about the struggles of ranch life in Texas, criminals and important events as they related to Texas. Throughout the 19th century, German, Czech, and Polish immigrants added their own nuances of European culture and such musical styles as polkas and waltzes. However, their biggest contribution to the Tejano sound proved to be the accordion. The instrument combination of the accordion, drums, and a 12 string bass guitar known as a bajo sexto gave Tejano music a personal sound unique to Texas alone.

            Numerous innovations evolved throughout the 20th century for this Texas genre. In the 1950Õs, Isidiro Lopez replaced the Spanish lyrical singing style with Tex-Mex vocabulary and slang. This added to the personal feel of Tejano music and better helped Texans identify with the tales told through the lyrics. In the late 1970Õs, the band Groupo Mazz allegedly added the keyboard to the flavor of cojunto Tejano. Major record labels first produced commercial Tejano records in the 1920Õs. However, the Great Depression and World War II led to the cessation of ethnic record production. This directly caused local record companies to pick up the slack of production in order to fill the demand for this genre of music. Armando Marroquin created the Alice-based company of Ideal records to sponsor local talent and produce specifically Tejano music. Marroquin’s wife Carmen and her sister Laura served as pioneers for the recording and spread of Tejano music during this time. Other talent of this genre included Narciso Martinez (greatly inspired by German accordion folk songs), the first female Tejana Lydia Mendoza, and Maya y Cantu.

In 1949 Jesus Maya and Timoteo Cantu produced a Tejano sound based on the corrido tale of Gregorio Cortez. They altered the original corrido format into a Tejano lyrical reflection.

Tejano Version of Gregorio Cortez

En el condado del Carmen

Miren lo que ha sucedido:

Murió el Cherife Mayor

Quedando Román herido


Otro día por la mañana

Cuando la gente llegó

Unos a los otros dicen:

"No saben quien lo mató"


Se anduvieron informando

Como tres horas después

Supieron que el malhechor

Era Gregorio Cortez


Insortaron a Cortez

Por toditito el estado:

"Vivo o muerto que se aprehenda

Porque a varios ha matado"


Decía Gregorio Cortez

Con su pistola en la mano:

"No siento haberlo matado

Al que siento es a mi hermano"


Decía Gregorio Cortez

Con su alma muy encendida:

"No siento haberlo matado

La defensa es permitida"


Venían los americanos

Que por el viento volaban

Porque se iban a ganar

Tres mil pesos que les daban


Tiró con rumbo a González

Varios cherifes lo vieron

No lo quisieron seguir

Porque le tuvieron miedo

Venían los perros jaunes

Venían sobre la huella

Pero alcanzar a Cortez

Era alcanzar a una estrella


Decía Gregorio Cortez:

"¡Pa' qué se valen de planes

Si no pueden agarrarme

Ni con esos perros jaunes!"


Decían los americanos:

"¿Si lo vemos qué le haremos?

Si le entramos por derecho

Muy poquitos volveremos"


En el redondel del rancho

Lo alcanzaron a rodear

Poquitos más de trescientos

Y allí les brincó el corral


Allá por el Encinal

Asegún por lo que dicen

Se agarraron a balazos

Y les mató a otro cherife


Decía Gregorio Cortez

Con su pistola en la mano:

"No corran rinches cobardes

Con un solo mexicano"


Giró con rumbo a Laredo

Sin ninguna timidez:

"¡Síganme rinches cobardes

Yo soy Gregorio Cortez!"


Gregorio le dice a Juan

En el rancho del Ciprés:

"Platícame qué hay de nuevo

Yo soy Gregorio Cortez"


Gregorio le dice a Juan:

"Muy pronto lo vas a ver

Anda háblale a los cherifes

Que me vengan a aprehender"


Cuando llegan los cherifes

Gregorio se presentó:

"Por las buenas si me llevan

Porque de otro modo no"


Ya agarraron a Cortez

Ya terminó la cuestión

La pobre de su familia

La lleva en el corazón


Ya con esta ahí me despido

Con la sombra de un Ciprés

Aquí se acaba cantando

La tragedia de Cortez


"El Corrido de Gregorio Cortez" (Translated)


In the country of El Carmen,

Look at what has happened,

The High Sheriff died,

Leaving Roman wounded


The following morning when the people arrived,

They were saying to each other:

They don’t know who killed him.


They went around asking questions and about three hours later;

They found out that the wrongdoer was Gregorio Cortez.

They posted a reward for Cortez throughout the whole state:

Capture him dead or alive because he has killed several men.


 Gregorio Cortez was saying with his pistol in his hand:

I don’t regret having killed him,

The one I’m sorry about is my brother.

Gregorio Cortez was saying with his soul all ablaze:


I don’t regret having killed him,

Self-defense is permitted.

The Americans were saying:

If we see him what will we do?

If we face him head on,

Very few of us will return alive.


Gregorio tells Juan:

Very soon you will see it, go,

Tell the sheriffs to come and arrest me


When the sheriffs arrived,

Gregorio presented himself:

You take me because I’m willing,

But not any other way.



Now they’ve captured Cortez,

Now the matter has come to an end:

His poor unfortunate family,

He carries in his heart


            Immediately, readers can trace the essence of corridos in the words of this Tejano song. Certain formulaic motifs such as the telling of location as well as speech events, have endured through the transition into the Tejano genre. However, the sound of Tejano music has evolved into a musical genre entirely unique. Numerous modern groups such as Intocable, Gary Hobbs, Los Palominos, Grupo Fuego, Los Frijoles Romanticos, Jay Perez, Quatro Vatos Locos, Kumbia Kings, Big Circo, and Los Tigres del Norte have worked hard to create a modern drive for this music form as well as continue the evolution of this genre. Several artists, including Jay Perez and Grupo Mazz, have even won national prestige with such awards as a Grammy. All across Texas and now even the modern world, the sounds of heartache, ranch life troubles, adultery, unceasing love, and legends sound through the distinctive beat of Tejano music.


The Texas State Library Archives Commission Ramon Ayala

© 2019 Tapestry, Annual TAMUK Women & Gender Studies Journal

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