A string of killings of musicians who sing about drug cartels has led many to quit the genre.
Songwriter Oswaldo Valdez stands with his brass band, "Los Jaibos, on a street corner here, hoping to get hired for a private performance that evening.
The real money, he knows, comes when a drug dealer requests not just a gig but a personal tribute. Mr. Valdez will sit down, listen to the dealer's story, and write him a .
The decades-old genre, which recounts tales of cultivating marijuana in the sierra and escaping gunfire on the streets, has been blamed by many for lauding criminals as heroes, much in the way rap music is often criticized in the US.
Calls for censorship over the years have irked musicians. But that stance is beginning to shift as drug-trade violence has escalated throughout Mexico, in number and brutality, and several artists have been killed as a result.
The recent string of deaths is prompting many, like Valdez, to think twice about composing the lucrative, but potentially life-threatening, lyrics.
"I will work with the low-key guys, but I will not write about murder, because then you, the singer, become a target," says Valdez, who's based in the state Sinaloa, the cradle of Mexico's narco-culture. "And we have to admit, it can generate violence, at least between the drug traffickers."
Murders' chilling effects
Among the musicians killed in the past year, it isn't certain that their lyrics landed them in trouble. One of the best-known singers, Sergio Gomez, who led the group K-Paz de la Sierra, was killed after a concert in the state of Michoacan in December, but was best-known for his romantic ballads. Observers say some musicians may have been victims of domestic disputes or even caught up in drug trafficking themselves.
Still, a trend – real or perceived – has chilled artists.