john h. mcdowell


- folklore of mexico and beyond


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 For more than a quarter of a century, I have been on the trail of the corrido, Mexico’s popular ballad form, an interest that I acquired from one of my mentors at the University of Texas, Professor Américo Paredes.  It was Dr. Paredes who suggested that I travel to the Costa Chica in search of the living ballad, and that encounter during the summer of 1972 left a permanent mark on me.  I have returned to this costal region of Mexico several times, most recently for a half-year sojourn in 1996, and little by little expanded my understanding of the social role played by this artistic form.  My wife Patricia Gluskho and I produced a documentary video on the corrido of Mexico’s Costa Chica, called “Que Me Troven Un Corrido” (Write Me A Corrido), as well as on the brass bands of Guerrero and on the Easter passion play in El Treinta, Guerrero.  I have taught courses at IU on both Chicano folklore and the folklore of Mexico.  The remarkable traditions of our neighbors to the south, and increasingly at home, remain a source of inspiration and fascination. Recently, my attention has turned to the narcocorrido, songs dealing with events and experiences in the cross-border drug trade -- see my 2012 article, "The Ballad of Narcomexico," in the Journal of Folklore Research.   




Poetry and Violence

The Ballad Tradition of Mexico's Costa Chica


John H. McDowell


Cover image: The Highland Troubadour 

Photographed by: Patricia A. Glushko

Supported by the L.J. and Mary C. Skaggs Folklore Fund and by Indiana University's Vice President for Academic Affairs and Bloomington Chancellor, the Dean of Faculties, and the College of Arts and Sciences

Released as paperback in 2008!


Buy the book now at




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Does art that depicts violence generate more violence?

Taking up a question that touches on contemporary developments such as gangsta rap and schoolyard shootings, John H. McDowell provides an in-depth study of a body of poetry that takes violence as its subject: the Mexican ballad form known as the corrido.

McDowell concentrates on the corrido tradition in Costa Chica, where the ethnic mix includes a strong African-Mexican, or Afro-mestizo, component. Through interviews with corrido composers and performers, both male and female, and a generous sampling of ballad texts, McDowell reveals a living vernacular tradition that amounts to a chronicle of local and regional rivalries. In the Costa Chica, the ballads center around land redistribution in the aftermath of the revolution, the process of capital formation in the area, and the consolidation of federal authority in this isolated region.

Focusing on the tragic corrido with its stories of heroic mortal encounter, McDowell examines the intersection of poetry and violence from three perspectives. He explores the contention that poetry
celebrates violence, perhaps thereby perpetuating it, by glorifying for receptive audiences the deeds of past heroes. He discerns a regulatory voice within the corrido that places violent behavior within the confines of a moral universe, distinguishing legitimate from illegitimate forms of violence. Finally, he contends that poetry can be a healing force that helps sustain the community in the wake of violent events.

A detailed case study with broad social and cultural implications, Poetry and Violence on Mexico's Costa Chica is a compelling commentary on violence as human experience and as communicative action.

John H. McDowell, a professor of folklore, director of the Folklore Institute, and Chair of the Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology at Indiana University, is the author of "So Wise Were Our Elders": Mythic Narratives of the Kamsa, Sayings of the Ancestors: The Spiritual Life of the Sibundoy Indians, and  Children's Riddling, for which he won the Chicago Folklore Prize.

A volume in the series Music in American Life and in the series Folklore and Society, edited by Roger Abrahams, Bruce Jackson, and Marta Weigle.




Book Genre:   Music / Folklore / Latin American Studies

"John McDowell's book Poetry and Violence is a brillant in-depth analysis of the relationship between violence and the  corrido.  McDowell's splendid insights into an Afromestizo Mexican community and its cultural production are invaluable to those interested in the corrido tradition. The interviews undertaken in the Costa Chica, the corridos collected, and the photographs included in the book are particularly outstanding."

-- Maria Herrera-Sobek, Author,  The Mexican Corrido: A Feminist Analysis

"John McDowell's fascinating and nuanced account of tragic corridos and their place in the lives of people from Mexico's southern Pacific coast captures the ambivalence at the heart of this musical genre.  Extending his analysis to the border and beyond, McDowell argues perceptively and engagingly about the beauty and the anguish violence bears in a variety of social settings."

--Laura A. Lewis, James Madison University




Come sample some of the 11 original Corridos on the accompanying CD:


1.   Antonio Veles

2.   Tomás Marín

3.   Chicharrón

4.   Tiene Lumbre el Comal

5.   Sidonio

6.   Pedro el Chicharrón

7.   Ernesto Quiñones

8.   Apolonio

9.   Moisés Colón

10.  Palemón Mariano

11.  Matías Rojas  


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      Last Modified May 29, 2007