*This is not an exact transcript, but rather an outline of my notes.
Today’s episode is about Chalino Sanchez and the infamous video clip of him receiving a death threat during his concert. Long story short, Chalino was a Mexican musician who had ties to the cartel. What kind of ties are debatable, but his songs told true stories of narcos, drug lords, gangsters, and all kinds of outlaws so in one way or another, he was for sure connected to people in this life.
Chalino’s success was on the rise when at a concert, with thousands of people in attendance, an audience member handed Chalino a piece of paper with something terrifying written on it. It’s unknown exactly what was said in the note, but it’s believed that it was a threat to end Chalino’s life. Whatever was on that note, the look on Chalino’s face as he read the note makes it clear that he was really, really worried, and possibly scared for his life.
So we’re going to get into Chalino’s life and some of the enemies he’s made and the theories surrounding his death.
Chalino was born Rosalino Sanchez Felix on August 30th, 1960, on a small ranch in Sinaloa, Mexico called “Las Flechas”. He was the youngest of 7 children. His siblings remember him as a curious and mischievous child who always dreamt of being a singer.
Sinaloa is along the northern border of Mexico and for that reason, it’s known for being dominated by cartel activity. For the same reason, a lot of the stories about Chalino can’t be verified. Almost all the information that’s known about Chalino is from word of mouth, and because he and many who surrounded him were likely involved in criminal activity, the most important details have been kept a secret. It’s similar to the case of Tupac Shakur and the “streetcode” that prevented gangsters from speaking to the police. With that said, drug and gang activity was everywhere and if you weren’t involved yourself, you likely had friends or relatives who were. Whether or not Chalino was involved in drug trafficking isn’t known for sure, but it’s very likely.
When Chalino was a teenager, he was involved in a shooting with a group of grown men. The rumor is that when he was a child, his sister Juana was kidnapped and raped by a guy named Juan Quiroz, who was connected to the drug cartel. Chalino decided right away that he would get revenge as soon as he was a man and able to get a gun. Juan Quiroz skipped town, but his buddy, Hector “Chapo” Perez, was still in town and going around saying really degrading things about Juana, like that she was bad in bed and in the kitchen, and bragging that he had assisted in her attack.
When Chalino was around 15 or 16 years old, he was given a gun. A few days later, he followed Chapo to a party and tried to blend in. He spotted him with his entourage surrounding him, all heavily armed and enjoying the party. Without saying a word, Chalino walked up to Chapo and shot him 3 times point blank, killing him instantly. Chaos ensued and everyone started screaming. Chapo’s men were drunk and confused, and Chalino was able to escape without a single scratch.
Though several accounts confirm this story, the Sanchez family denies that any kidnapping or assault ever happened. They do, however, admit that Chalino got into a fight to “defend his family’s honor”.
Chalino allegedly ran and hid in the mountains for 2 weeks. Years later, Chalino told his bandmate, Nacho Hernandez, that the quickest escape he found was through a marijuana field. He would later detail this incident in one of his songs about himself, Rosalino Sanchez.”
Likely to avoid someone coming after him in revenge, Chalino fled to the United States around 1977. He went to live with his aunt in the Los Angeles area and worked on farms, but eventually became a coyote, helping people cross the border illegally. They did odd jobs and small-time crimes. Chalino was wild and unpredictable. He liked drugs, guns, and music. He was often drunk. Aside from smuggling people, it’s said that he was also smuggling drugs.
While in California, Chalino did a stint as a delivery driver for a restaurant owner named Rigoberto Campos. Rigoberto Campos was a known narco who was obsessed with American mafia movies. He was ambidextrous, meaning he was deadly with a gun in either hand, up until his rival cut his arms off with a thresher (like a paper shredder for trees). Rigoberto survived and got prosthetic arms and was said to have been just as deadly as ever.
During the 80’s, Rigoberto spent some time in prison for drug trafficking charges. There he met a woman named Elizabeth Brenner who was volunteering and offering the prisoners salvation. Years later, the pair were in love and Rigoberto was working as a restaurant owner while at war with the narcos who took his arms. Chalino worked as a delivery driver for his restaurants. The rumors say that Elizabeth ran into his office one day, with tears in her eyes, messy hair, and her clothing torn, saying that Chalino tried to kiss her and put his hands all over her. Chalino allegedly ran in denying the whole thing. As Rigoberto adjusted his prosthetic arm to pick up his pistol, Chalino ran.
Chalino would write a song about Rigoberto, and it actually sounds like he admired and looked up to him. Some people believe Rigoberto may have been the one to orchestrate Chalino’s death in 1992, but most agree this is all just rumor. Rigoberto was killed in 1991 in a cartel-related shooting.
In the early ‘80’s, Chalino’s cousin introduced him to a woman named Marisela Vallejos, who would become his wife in 1984. They would go on to have 2 children together: a son named Adan and a daughter named Cynthia.
In 1984, Chalino’s brother Armando was shot and killed in a hotel in Tijuana. It’s rumored that it was a drug deal gone wrong. Around this same time, Chalino would end up in a Tijuana prison for various petty crimes. His brother’s death inspired Chalino to write his first corrido, Recordando a Armando Sanchez, and at La Mesa prison, he continued to develop his talent for writing narcocorridos. He got the attention of fellow inmates and started telling their stories in his songs, and pretty soon Chalino had his own little business and would exchange songs for things like guns and jewelry.
In 1989, Chalino recorded his first cassette of 15 songs and sold them out of the trunk of his car and at local businesses like swap meets and bakeries across South Central Los Angeles. Chalino connected with another Mexican immigrant, Pedro Rivera, who had set up a small recording studio in Long Beach, California, which allowed aspiring musicians to record at a low cost. Chalino and Rivera pioneered the "prohibited corridos" (corrido prohibido), songs that mythologized drug smugglers, murderers, or "valientes".
Initially, not everyone was a fan of his singing. His voice was scratchy and a little off-key. He always said “I don’t sing, I bark. But the people like it,” and it was true. Chalino had his own style. He sang his songs in his own cadence and Sinaloan slang, something no big singer had ever tried to do. Through pure word of mouth, Chalino’s audience grew and promoters quickly sought to book him at their clubs.
By1992, Chalino was performing with a band called Los Amables del Norte. They had a concert at dancehall in Coachella, California where there were about 400 people in the audience, including some asshole named Eduardo Gallegos. I say asshole because this guy was drunk and would not shut the fuck up about a particular song he wanted the band to play. He was shouting to the band to play the song “Gallo de Sinaloa”, but Chalino kept choosing to play other songs instead. Eduardo was getting on his nerves. Finally, after about 20 minutes, Chalino tells the pissed off fan that he’s going to sing the song he requested, “Gallo de Sinaloa”. They got ready to play it, and Chalino suddenly changed his mind and went with a different song. Eduardo was pissed, so he hopped up on the stage shouting and pointing a gun at Chalino. Chalino quickly pulled out his own gun and fired at Eduardo, hitting him twice. Unfortunately, Eduardo managed to fire his own gun multiple times, hitting Chalino twice in the lungs, as well as hitting Nacho in the lower back. Wounded, Chalino managed to shoot back and Eduardo ran into the audience, still shooting at Chalino. As they shot at each other, multiple people in the audience were hit. One man bled out and died on the way to the hospital.
The crowd was able to subdue Eduardo and someone managed to shoot him with his own gun. It turns out that Eduardo had a history of alcohol and heroin abuse and was high and drunk during the incident. Chalino survived but was left in critical condition and spent the next couple of months on life support. The shooting made ABC World News Tonight as well as both English- and Spanish-language newspapers.
Although Chalino may have been the one to fire the shot that killed the concertgoer, he was not prosecuted because officials agreed that he had only been shooting in self-defense. Gallegos served 15 years. There’s no explanation for a possible motive, other than that Gallegos was just a pissed off fan. Like when a drunk guy at the bar is yelling his requests at the DJ.
This incident made Chalino more famous. He was officially a proven valiente (tough guy or outlaw). His sales blew up and his audience was as engaged as ever. People wondered if some of the stories in his songs were real-life stories that had happened to him. He was given more opportunities to perform and was invited to do a show back in his hometown, Culiacan, Sinaloa. Chalino hadn’t been home since he left in the ‘70s and his friends and family warned him that it was too dangerous to come back, presumably because of the dark past he had left behind. Chalino didn’t listen. He firmly believed in fate and often said that only God decides when a person dies and if he dies, it’s God’s will. But before taking his final trip to Sinaloa, he sold his collection of guns and all the rights to his music for $115,000 and used the money for a down payment on a house for his wife and kids.
On May 15th, 1992, about 4 months after the Coachella incident, Chalino and his band performed a concert in Culiacan. Chalino wore his usual attire: a suit, a belt that matched his boots, a cowboy hat, and his loaded gun. The concert was going great, Chalino was escorted on stage by models in white and the band was bumping. The crowd pushed their way forward until they were close enough to touch Chalino.
At some point during the concert, the band begins accepting song requests. Someone in the crowd handed Chalino a piece of paper. Chalino reads the note as the band begins to play their song Alma Enamorada. As he reads it, the smile on his face disappears. His entire demeanor changed. He takes 7 seconds to read the note, and then wipes sweat off his brow before going on with the show. His bandmate, Nacho, says that Chalino didn’t say a word to anyone, but it was clear that something was wrong.
No one knows for sure what was on this note, but it’s believed to have been a death threat. There is footage of this moment, I’ll upload it on brokenlimelight.com. He crumpled up the note and continued with his performance.
After the concert, the band packed up and headed home in their separate cars. Chalino decided to continue the party and left in a vehicle along with his 2 brothers, a cousin, and a couple young women.
No one knows exactly what happened during the night, or at least it can’t be officially confirmed. Nacho says that Chalino and everyone in that vehicle were on their way to an afterparty when they were ambushed by 3 cars in a roundabout. At least one of these cars was a Suburban with government plates. The guys hopped out of the vehicles and flashed police badges. Again, it’s unclear if these were actual police officers or people posing as police officers. But the line between the police and the cartel can sometimes be blurred, as there were actual police officers on the cartel’s payroll, working as gunmen or bodyguards.
They said they were looking for Chalino under orders from their boss. They pulled Chalino’s brother, Espiridion, out of the car, possibly mistaking him for Chalino. Chalino didn’t want to risk Espiridion or anyone else getting hurt, so he offered the officer some money. The man refused it. Chalino saw that there was no way out of the situation, so he told them that Espiridion was just a fan, and he was actually Chalino before agreeing to go with them. Allegedly, one of the officers said something like “I’m just following orders” and Chalino was like “hey, I get it” and went with the guy without a fight. They let Espiridion go and Chalino got into their Suburban. They drove away, leaving Chalino’s friends and relatives in their car in shock, with the realization that they were in cartel territory. They knew this wouldn’t end well.
Around 6 AM the next day, two farmers found Chalino's body by an irrigation canal along the highway. He was blindfolded and bound, and he had been shot in the back of the head twice. He was just 31 years old.
Immediately after his death, all the radio stations that had formerly shunned Chalino were suddenly reporting on his death and playing his songs throughout the entire night. Nacho says he personally never looked into it because, well, he’s just a musician. He’s not a cop or a gangster. To this day, the police refuse to release the file on Chalino’s cold case. They say that it’s to protect the investigation, so it will remain confidential for at least a few more years. But that didn’t stop people from coming up with their own conclusions. A lot of rumors were spread, some saying that Chalino had faked his death to run for his life, or was hiding from the government, or was secretly working as a hitman.
For a long time, it appeared that the Mexican government was doing nothing to investigate Chalino’s murder, which led to a lot of speculation that the government was somehow involved. The state of Sinaloa is dominated by the cartel and has been since about the 80’s, and it’s theorized the cartels may have paid the government to look the other way.
Decades pass before there’s any break in the case. The police’s failure to investigate Chalino’s death has driven a lot of fans to look into this themselves. One fan, Eric Gallindo, has been a fan of Chalino since childhood and he created his own podcast (Idolo: The Ballad of Chalino Sanchez) where he investigated the murder and even did his own personal interviews with people like Nacho Hernandez. Remember, Nacho was Chalino’s bandmate and best friend. He was there throughout Chalino’s rise to fame, he was there when he was shot in Coachella and even took a bullet himself, and he saw Chalino’s dead body after he was found in Culiacan.
Eric asked Nacho about a rumor about a hit man named Rene Escobar. The rumor was that a few weeks before Chalino’s final show, Rene tried to kill him. If this is true, it could explain why Chalino’s friends and loved ones were so worried about him coming back to perform in Sinaloa. Right around the time Chalino accepted the deal to play in Sinaloa, Rene was shot and killed. The cartel believed that Chalino knew about the hit and he killed Rene first.
According to Nacho, Chalino actually had nothing to do with Rene’s death and he couldn’t understand why they thought he did. He speculated that Chalino must’ve done something else to piss off the cartel and they were just using this Rene story as an excuse to seek revenge.
As Eric Gallindo investigates, he struggles to find any real confirmation of these tales. But he eventually came across the name of a high ranking cartel member, Baldomar Escobar, who is believed to be the brother of Rene. According to Eric’s theory, Baldomar may have killed Chalino to avenge his brother’s death. Eric tried to interview Baldomar but couldn’t physically track him down. Then he got the chance to interview another high ranking narco who insisted on remaining anonymous. He agreed to the interview as long as Eric only asked yes or no questions.
Eric asked if Baldomar was related to Rene, to which the response was “yes”. Eric then asks “Did Baldomar kill Chalino?” The reply was, again, “yes”. Eric was shocked, thinking he may have just solved this case. But right before hanging up the call, the narco started to backtrack, adding “this is just what I’ve heard. I wasn’t there.” and then he dropped the call. With all that said, we still don’t know if this man was telling the truth, or just some guy telling tall tales.
Today, nearly 30 years later, the case is still unsolved. A pair of journalists teamed up and requested the records in the case to be declassified. The state of Sinaloa’s attorney general’s office responded that their request could not be completed, however, the case is still being investigated today. The AG’s office claimed that releasing the file would reveal “the investigative strategy” and methods being used to find the killer. They’re pushing to keep the records classified for another 5 years.
Chalino’s family had a complex relationship with his legacy. As Chalino’s fame rose, the royalties became millions of dollars but Marisela and the family never saw a penny. The record label only gave her gold copies of Chalino’s records, and she had to fight to get them. Their son Adán Sánchez followed his father's footsteps and was also a successful Regional Mexican singer. Marisela was adamant that he only emulated the positive aspects of his father’s legacy. She managed his career and encouraged him to sing folk music. Marisela began referring to narcocorridos as “dirty corridos”. She even calls them harmful to young people.
In 2004, Chalino’s son Adan passed away suddenly due to injuries sustained in a car accident at the age of 19 while touring in Mexico. In an interview, Marisela said “They expected to see a mother falling apart, full of tears. But I was outside consoling the girls who had no idea it was me. As a family, we’ve always carried ourselves that way. We endured hunger, cold, and humiliations, but we always were strong in front of people.”
Chalino’s legacy has led a lot of Mexicans to embrace their culture and it lives on today. His song Nieves de Enero has been streamed over 135 million times on Spotify.
Podcast Idolo: The Ballad of Chalino Sanchez