While corrido, a jaunty type of Mexican music featuring guitars and accordions, doesn’t sound a thing like rap, the two are kin in spirit. For more than 200 years, corrido songs have chronicled the tales of the poor and disenfranchised, touching on rebellion and illegal immigration, and in recent decades, violence and narcotics. For singer-songwriter Magdiel, a 23-year-old fisherman living in Sinaloa, the drug capital of Mexico, corrido could be his ticket out of poverty. If not, he has two choices: smuggling drugs or smuggling himself across the border.
Natalia Almada’s moving documentary examines corrido and the hard way of life that inspires it. She juxtaposes balladeers living in Mexico with the Chicanos who play the genre in Southern California, including a feisty performer named Jenni Rivera (self-dubbed Jenni from El Barrio), who sings proudly of being the gun-toting daughter of a dealer—even though she’s really the child of a famous music producer who helped bring late corrido star Chalino Sanchez to prominence.
Almada also explores the continuing epidemic of Mexicans crossing the treacherous border. To many, the U.S. is still synonymous with money and opportunity, although the interviewees in Compton dispute that myth. The filmmaker neither glorifies nor judges her subjects or their choices; instead she lets their songs and stories speak for themselves. But too often it’s the same refrain: They have to risk their lives to try to get ahead. (Now playing; MoMA.)—Raven Snook