Mexico Mourns Yet Another Slain Norteno Singer

Norteno singer Sergio Vega was shot dead in a northern state that has produced many of Mexico’s most notorious drug kingpins, joining a recent string of murdered musicians – some of them famous for crooning about the cartel lifestyle.

Unknown assailants intercepted Vega’s red Cadillac on Saturday night near Los Mochis in Sinaloa state and riddled it with more than 30 bullets, authorities said. There were no arrests, and police have not identified any suspects or a possible motive.

Vega, 40, was a singer of “narcocorridos” – a subgenre that updates the folkloric “corrido” tradition of ballads about revolutionary heroes to tell the story of, and sometimes lionize, drug traffickers.

Photo: AP Photo
Speaking in front of a promotional image of his album Plaza Nueva in Mexico City.

Elijah Wald, author of the book “Narcocorrido,” said Monday that such singers often get caught up in the violent world they sing about.

“The music world has always been connected with the crime world,” Wald said. “And it is common for ranchera singers – especially if they sing corridos, as Vega did – to be hired to play parties for people in the drug world, or to be sponsored by drug money when they are starting out.”

Sinaloa state prosecutor’s spokesman Martin Gastelum said Vega was killed while driving a wounded man to the hospital.

However the passenger, Sergio Montiel Avila, said there was just one attack. Gunmen inside a vehicle that was following them unleashed a hail of bullets that wounded him in the neck and caused Vega to lose control and crash, he told El Debate newspaper.

Avila said he managed to escape the car and hide, but the assailants “finished Mr. Vega off” with shots to the head and chest.

Ana Luisa Gomez, Vega’s agent, said memorial services would be held over several days in Sonora. A Mass was celebrated Monday.

Born in Ciudad Obregon, Sonora state, Vega moved to Phoenix in the 1980s. He began to sing with his brothers in a group that came to be known as Los Hermanos Vega, and later, Los Shakas del Norte. The band returned to Mexico in 1994.

He took a break from music between 2001 and 2003 to undergo rehab for alcohol and drug addiction.

Just hours before his murder, Vega denied rumors that he had been killed.

“It has happened to me for years now – someone tells a radio station or a newspaper I have been killed, or suffered an accident,” he told La Oreja, an entertainment website. “And then I have to call my dear mother, who has heart trouble, to reassure her.”

Vega also said he had increased security due to killings of fellow musicians in northern Mexico – at least seven in the recent years, according to the BBC.

The list includes Valentin Elizalde, “El Gallo de Oro,” who was shot to death along with his manager and driver in 2006 following a performance in Reynosa, across the border from McAllen, Texas. Officials suggested Elizalde’s killing may have been linked to a violent video posted online and set to his song “A Mis Enemigos.”

In 2007, Zayda Pena of the group Zayda and the Guilty Ones was shot in a hospital while recovering from a separate bullet wound. A day later, Sergio Gomez of the group K-Paz de la Sierra was kidnapped after a concert at which Vega also played. Gomez was later found strangled, with signs of having been tortured.

“Another artist who has gone. Enough!” read one message on Vega’s Facebook page, which has turned into an online memorial wall with hundreds of postings from grieving fans.

“Many innocent and hardworking people are dying,” the message continued. It urged President Felipe Calderon to end drug violence that has killed more than 23,000 people since late 2006.

Sinaloa has been as affected by the violence as any other state. It is the birthplace of Sinaloa cartel bosses Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman and Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, as well as a half-dozen purported Juarez and Beltran-Leyva cartel kingpins.

The motive behind Vega’s murder is still unclear, and Wald cautioned against jumping to the conclusion that he was targeted for his music.

“Sinaloa is a very dangerous place right now,” he said. “A more realistic way to phrase the story is that they are killing so many people that some musicians are included.”

Some slayings of singers are reputed to have been caused by jealousy over a romantic relationship; others due to revenge or to send a message because the singer, a friend or a relative was involved in trafficking.

“Of course, the fact that these are the common explanations doesn’t mean that they are right,” Wald added. “No one who will talk to you knows the truth, and no one who knows the truth will talk to you.”