The bilingual podcast “Ídolo: The Ballad of Chalino Sánchez” about the singer’s rise to fame and his killing at age 31 has hit a chord in Mexico, among his fans in the U.S. and beyond.
His image can be found on T-shirts at California markets, and fans still listen to his raspy voice singing the corridos, or Mexican ballads, that made Chalino Sánchez famous.
Decades after he was found shot to death when he was 31 years old, his allure has only been compounded by a popular podcast that has revived interest in the “King of Corrido.”
It wasn’t easy to tell Sánchez’s story — full of music and corridos but also violent episodes — taking into account that he was shot in 1992 and that the few confirmed details about his death are full of contradictions.
But journalists Erick Galindo and Alejandro Mendoza — authors and co-hosts of “Ídolo: The Ballad of Chalino Sánchez” — together with the production team of Futuro Studios and Sonoro found a way to tell the story and engage whoever hits play.
The bilingual podcast is almost one year old, and since then, the impact has been enormous.
“Ídolo” topped the podcast charts after its launch, and it has been described as “a tribute to the many things Chalino paved the way for” by Podcast the Newsletter and as a series that “wastes no time in hooking you into the mystery surrounding his death” by renowned Los Angeles outlet L.A. Taco.
“I don’t think anyone imagined that it would be as big as it has been,” Galindo said in an interview with Noticias Telemundo. “It ended up being the No. 1 podcast in Mexico. … I remember seeing the charts and it was in the top 100 in all countries. It’s still in the top 100 podcasts today, a year later, and people recognize me from the podcast. … They’re like, ‘OMG, you’re Erick Galindo!’”
The podcast, with a version in English and one in Spanish, has made it possible to connect with very different audiences, not only by nationality but also by age. “It’s the first podcast my parents listened to,” Galindo pointed out.
Even Sánchez’s wife, Marisela Vallejos Félix, told Galindo that she didn’t expect the podcast would be so popular.
Written by Galindo and Mendoza as if it were a thriller, the chapters investigate the possible theories surrounding the life and death of the singer. Sánchez was born and died in the north of Mexico — in Culiacán, Sinaloa — but he was well known and continues to be very popular on the other side of the border, especially in Los Angeles, where he lived for several years and achieved his dream of becoming a popular singer.
The result is an emotional story, set to music by an original “corrido” created especially for the podcast.
A podcast narrated by a Pocho and a Chilango
Galindo, whose family is from Culiacán, was born in the U.S. and remembers how shocking Sánchez’s death was for him and his relatives.
In the case of his older brother, it was a literal shock: He had come home visibly affected after learning that his favorite corrido singer had been shot to death, according to the writer in the first episode of the podcast. He wanted to put a cassette with the artist’s hits in the family’s rickety tape recorder, but in trying to remove another stuck cassette with a screwdriver, he was shocked and passed out. When he was barely conscious again, he said between sobs, “They killed Chalino.”
The anecdote shows the deeply personal touch that he and Mendoza give to the narrative, drawing on their own experiences, which ended up producing unique versions of the same story — each with a completely original language and approach.
“We started thinking that it would be an exact translation from English to Spanish and vice versa. … But when we started writing, we realized it wasn’t the same story,” Galindo said.
“If you listen to the two episodes, in English, and in Spanish … you will see that the perspective is different,” Galindo said, “one is the perspective of a ‘Pocho’ (slang for Mexican American) living in the United States and the other is that of a ‘Chilango,'” (referring to someone from Mexico). The Spanish one represents a look from the Mexican states of Jalisco, Michoacán, and Sinaloa, which are epicenters of the war against the drug cartels and much of the violence that shakes the country.
The figure of Sánchez is an archetype for many Mexicans because of what he represents, Mendoza said, “a bit like the stereotype of the brave, brave man forging ahead, who has a clear objective and is going to achieve it, who does not leave anyone behind and who had a dream and fulfilled it.”
Sánchez represents the experiences of migrant men and women in the United States. He was born on a ranch in Culiacán, in the bosom of a traditional, poor, and numerous Mexican family. His father died when he was only 6 years old, and he had to learn to make a living with his seven brothers.
The podcast takes the listener into the controversy around the late singer, including accounts of Sánchez’s participation in more than one shooting, including an account of a shooting at a party in Culiacán when he was “barely a short teenager,” as Mendoza narrates in Spanish, an event that forces Sánchez to immigrate to California.