john h. mcdowell
-folklore of mexico and beyond

Man with a guitar in front of a bookshelf  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 coastal 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.


To see about my current work on the narcocorrido, click here



Corrido book cover

Two books have emerged from this life-long interest. Most recently, the University of New Mexico Press published in 2015 my collection of corridos, with photos by Patricia Glushko, musical transcriptions, text in the original Spanish and in my English translations, and ample commentary on such matters as the historical events referenced in the songs, the performance techniques, and the aesthetics of music and verse.


¡Corrido! The Living Ballad of Mexico’s Western Coast


Publisher's blurb:

The present compilation of ballads from the Mexican states of Guerrero and Oaxaca documents one of the world's great traditions of heroic song, a tradition that has thrived continuously for the last hundred years. The 107 corridos presented here, gathered during ethnographic research over a period of twenty-five years in settlements on Mexico's Costa Chica and Costa Grande, offer a window into the ethos of heroism among the cultures of Mexico's southwestern coast, a region that has been plagued by recurrent cycles of violence.

John Holmes McDowell presents a richly annotated field collection of corridos, accompanied by musical scores and transcriptions and translations of lyrics. In addition to his interpretation of the corridos' depiction of violence and masculinity, McDowell situates the songs in historical and performance contexts, illuminating the Afro-mestizo influence in this distinctive population.



Poetry and Violence book cover

Earlier, in 2000, I published with the University of Illinois Press Poetry and Violence: The Ballad Tradition of Mexico's Costa Chica (released in paperback in 2008).


Poetry and Violence: The Ballad Tradition of Mexico's Costa Chica

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



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


Music picture of CD

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;




The Musicians

Two men, one with a guitar. Caption: El Cobarde Two men playing guitar. Caption: Taurino & Houstin
Two men with guitars. Caption: Ernesto Gallardo Man with a guitar. Caption: Junencio Vargas!



The Mexican ballad tradition is always at the service of the Mexican people -through the Mexican Revolution, the Cristero rebellion, the period of land reform under Lázaro Cárdenas, the decades of northward migration, the social and political protests of the 1960s and 1970s (and more recently as well), and lately, the ongoing underworld cartel phase that has impacted so many lives there. The corrido tells the tales of the drug mafias, often offering inside perspectives that are hard to find elsewhere.

Recently, I have taken up additional angles of vision on this rich socio-cultural-artistic phenomenon, addressing 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; and exploring the performance dynamics of the genre, in "Coaxing the Corrido: Centering Song in Performance," published in the Journal of American Folklore 23 (2010): 129-149.

Honoring my mentor, Américo Paredes, I published in 2014 a translation of his article, "El Cowboy Norteamericano en el Folklore y en la Literatura" ("The North American Cowboy in Folklore and Literature"), originally published in Spanish in Argentina; it appears in the Folklore Forum: Translations: folklore


Additional Publications

FIND other books by JHMcD HERE
So Wise Were Our Elders book cover Sayings of the Ancestors book cover Children's Riddling book cover

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Last Modified Jan 18, 2022