Chalino Sánchez always wore a suit, cowboy boots, a matching belt, a white tejana like all the protagonists wore in old country-westerns, and often, a loaded gun. He was known throughout Mexico and the United States as the King of the Corrido, and he is widely considered one of the most influential Mexican musicians of all time.
Corridos are narrative ballads, often telling true stories oppression, history, and heartbreak. On May 15, 1992, Chalino and his band were performing in a dance hall in Sinaloa, Mexico, and midway through his set, Chalino knew this show would be his last. The next morning, his body was found in a ditch off the side of the highway. Nobody is entirely sure what happened or who did it, but “Ídolo: The Ballad of Chalino Sánchez” is determined to sift through Chalino’s past to find his murderers.
“Ídolo: The Ballad of Chalino Sánchez” tells the story of Chalino Sánchez in both English and Spanish. Across eight episodes, hosts Erick Galindo (in English) and Alejandro Mendoza (in Spanish) tell us the story that turned Chalino from an immigrant working odd jobs into the most famous Mexican-American singing outlaw who became mythologized in death. Episodes are just 30 minutes long and should be streamed in order.
Chalino’s entire existence is shrouded in mystery and obscured by legend. Separating the facts from the fiction of Chalino’s life is no easy task, starting from long before he had a shootout onstage at Coachella. Born in Sinaloa, as a young man, he found himself crossing the border into California escaping the law, possibly after committing a murder. He spent time in prison before pioneering the narcocorrido, a spin on the corrido that told the grisly exploits of Mexico’s drug bosses and criminals. But as Erick tells us, Chalino didn’t just sing about cartels, shootouts, and bloody escapades – he lived it.
“Ídolo: The Ballad of Chalino Sánchez” journeys through the life and times of the Mexican musician, along the way exploring the many theories surrounding Chalino’s unsolved murder. Was he murdered because he sought revenge for his sister who had been attacked by a group of men while growing up? Was it because of a love triangle between Chalino, a drug lord, and his girlfriend? Maybe those rumors had grown out of control. Was it perhaps one of his songs that told the true story of a dangerous man?
When Chalino’s body turned up in a ditch on May 16, 1992 with two bullet holes in the back of his head, rumors of how he died immediately began to spread. Rumors that the Mexican and American governments had him killed, his years of working with cartels had finally caught up with him, even that he faked his death in an effort to avoid it all. “Ídolo: The Ballad of Chalino Sánchez” sifts through these rumors and tries to find truth in any of it.
Nacho Hernandez, Chalino’s band leader and best friend, is interviewed in “Ídolo: The Ballad of Chalino Sánchez.” Nacho watched Chalino leave the dance hall that night with his brother and a group of women, headed to a club. What happens next is the story Nacho heard of that night that has become the reigning rumor surrounding Chalino’s murder.
Supposedly, Chalino’s group was surrounded by three cars on the road, including a suburban with government plates. A police officer steps out of the car and demands that Chalino does as well. Chalino offered him money, believing this was just a typical criminal shakedown for cash, but the man dressed as an officer only wants Chalino.
And that’s the end of the story. The only thing we know for certain happened next was that Chalino was shot and left in a ditch. Nacho thinks that Chalino’s outlaw reputation caught up with him, saying that his fatal mistake was becoming a famous musician and announcing where he would be every night for his shows.
Erick grew up in Los Angeles, but both of his parents are from Chalino’s home state of Sinaloa, Mexico. Erick remembers the day Chalino died, remembers the grief that he, his brother, and many others suffered. While Chalino’s outlaw reputation may have contributed to his death, it also contributed to his overwhelming success.
He resonated with people on both sides of the border who felt like the law was not meant to protect them. “Ídolo: The Ballad of Chalino Sánchez” is not just theorizing on the unsolved murder of the musician, but also looking at the impact he had in life and the influence he continues to hold three decades after his death.