By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
Culiacan is a city of 600,000 people, and that Friday night in May 1992, 2,000 of them packed into the Salon Buganvilias. The crowd exploded in cheers as Chalino, flanked by six scantily clad young women, took the stage. After the show, Chalino, his brother Espiridion, a woman friend and some of her relatives left the club in a car, but were stopped at a traffic circle by armed men in a federal police car. Chalino and Espiridion were taken from the car. They offered the gunmen money, believing them to be police officers. The gunmen didn't accept, but they released his brother.
"Chalino told them, 'Don't take him, he's not to blame for anything. I just met him at the show,'" says Hernandez. "They didn't know he was his brother, so they let him go."
A few hours later, as dawn broke on May 16, two campesinos found the body of Chalino Sanchez dumped by an irrigation canal near the highway north of town. He was blindfolded, and his wrists had rope marks. He had been shot twice in the back of the head.
The reaction in Culiacan was immediate. "That night, all these guys were driving around town with their speakers blaring, just waiting for someone to look at them funny," remembers Fernando Sauceda of the Sinaloan Human Rights Defense Commission.
Back in Los Angeles, the news clicked quickly along the informal network his music had created at high schools in Bell, Long Beach, Compton, Huntington Park. Girls cried at Paramount High. El Parral filled up that night. Only Chalino's music was played. There was a minute of silence. People broke into tears.
Out in Coachella, the D.A.'s office sent detectives down to Sinaloa to confirm Chalino's death. The trial of Eduardo Gallegos proceeded without its key witness. (Gallegos, who never gave a reason for the shooting, was convicted and is serving 15 years to life in prison.)
Musart took full advantage. "Immediately, obviously, we began to promote him," says Gonzalez. "We advertised that he'd been killed, put out special posters. We said, 'Why should we keep all his tapes locked up?' But we didn't expect the gigantic reaction that followed."
Those who worked the swap meets felt the groundswell. Pedro Rivera's son, Lupe, was selling cassettes that Sunday at the Paramount Swap Meet. "This lady walked up and said, 'Do you have any cassettes by Chalino? I want one of each. I just found out this morning that he was shot.' Her family had called her from Mexico. Then radio stations started announcing it. Pretty soon people just started buying his cassettes like crazy, you know: 'Let me have two of each.'"
If the Coachella shooting established Chalino's underworld credentials, his Culiacan murder mythicized him. Soon a Chalinomania gripped Los Angeles on down to Sinaloa. "It was an epidemic," says Marisela. "You could hear his music all over the place. So many people would play him in their cars, their houses, their dances."
A cottage industry in cheesy Chalino reissues grew. Both Musart and Cintas Acuario quickly stripped the vocal tracks from his original recordings and wove them in with singers and bands Chalino had never even met. Musart would put out 10, and Cintas Acuario 12, of these horrible ersatz recordings. But the demand was there: All but one of Musart's 15 Chalino albums still sell at least 10,000 copies annually.
A kind of Sinaloazation of L.A. Mexican culture was taking place. If tourists or the average Angeleno thought mariachi synonymous with Mexico, Mexicans in L.A. - the working classes - were really listening to the music of Sinaloa: the norteno conjunto and banda. And if being Sinaloan - with its drug undertones - was suddenly cool, to be from the Sinaloan hills was even more so.
Thus emerged the Chalinazo, a new style of dress in which urban kids imitated Mexican hicks. At clubs, they'd dress up in cowboy hats and boots, large belt buckles, and jackets with epaulets made from the skin of some exotic animal; eventually, gold chains and silk shirts were added. Narcotraficante chic. It was nothing short of a Mexican roots renaissance, though this time led not by a small group of Chicano college professors, intellectuals and artists, but by a large swath of working-class youth.
"I've listened to his songs 100 times, and every time I listen to them I hear and feel something different," says Jose Quintero, a 22-year-old from Paramount and a regular at El Parral. "Like the song about Tino Quintero. He was like a Billy the Kid. Everybody wanted to kill him, but because he was a man they couldn't. They invited him to a party. At the party they began shooting at him. Surrounded by his enemies, he said, 'I'm going to take a few of them with me.' Then he ran out of bullets. He wasn't going to apologize to nobody. He died like a man. He inspired a lot of people. I want to die like that."
In the six years since his death, dozens of young singers, who'd sung only in the shower or the car, figured that if Chalino could do it, they could too. One even took the stage name Chalinillo (Little Chalino), another La Sombra de Chalino (Chalino's Shadow). Among the new singers was Saul Viera: "At first, when Chalino came out, no one really liked him. Myself, I was like, Where the hell did you get that guy? But then you pay attention to what he's saying and you start liking him. It's like gangster music about people getting shot, battles with police, growing marijuana."