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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

The Mexican cartels that control the flow of drugs into the U.S. have used violence to intimidate police, the military and their rivals in the trade. A Texas band called The Krayolas has recorded a song about their brutality. As NPR's Neda Ulaby reports, their song is called corridos, "Twelve Heads in a Bag."

Mr. HECTOR SALDANA (Lead singer, The Krayolas Band): My name is Hector Saldana. And I'm the lead singer for The Krayolas.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. SALDANA: (Singing in foreign language).

NEDA ULABY: The Krayolas are a band from San Antonio, Texas, where drug killings in Mexico make headlines. Saldana was inspired to write this song after reading about a grisly retaliation against the Mexican government's war on drugs. Gangsters dumped a plastic bag filled with human heads near a mall in southern Mexico.

Mr. SALDANA: They had no bodies. They had no ID. They could not be identified. Some, they figured, were soldiers because of the short haircuts that they had. They had a note on the bag that said, for every one you take, we'll take 10.

(Soundbite of song, "Twelve Heads in a Bag")

Mr. SALDANA: (singing) Twelve heads in a bag, left on the side of the road, found in a country, God no longer knows.

ULABY: The song is on The Krayolas new album "Long Leaf Pine." Hector Saldana says he wrote it originally as a folk-rock tune but it came out like a corrido.

Mr. SALDANA: You know, corrido is like the blues is in the American idiom — it has a certain sound.

ULABY: And recurring themes.

Mr. SALDANA: Political implications, murder usually, drugs.

NORRIS: "Twelve Heads in a Bag" is a hybrid mixing Spanish and English, Mexican conjunto music, rock and traditional folk. Saldana covers music for the San Antonio Express-News. He and his brother founded The Krayolas as teenagers in the 1970s. They've scored a few regional hits, making them a known quantity at last month's South by Southwest music festival.

Unidentified Man: (Unintelligible)

(Soundbite of cheering)

NORRIS: The Krayolas performed at a showcase hosted by Little Steven Van Zandt, best known for his work with Bruce Springsteen and the HBO series "The Sopranos." Now, he plays The Krayolas on his New York-based satellite radio show.

Mr. LITTLE STEVEN VAN ZANDT (Host): Oh, we love them, you know. We're probably the only ones in the country playing them, and we're playing them in every rotation.

ULABY: Up until now, The Krayolas have been mostly known for boppy garage rock. The lead singer Hector Saldana felt he had to create a response to the staggering number of drug murders — over 6,000 since last year.

Mr. SALDANA: I hate to say it, but you almost get numb to it. You read these stories all the time. And the details are there in these news accounts. And it was on my mind, and it actually became a song. And my mother actually saw me writing these words down — I was at her house — and she was saying that's so gruesome. Don't write about that.

ULABY: But Saldana says the lyrics just poured out of him.

(Soundbite of song, "Twelve Heads in a Bag")

Mr. SALDANA: (singing) Twelve heads in a bag, screaming out what did you do, wrapped up like garbage, be thankful it ain't you. Found a few in Chiapas, down in Juarez, too, where the girls lost are faceless, and the killers wear no shoes.

ULABY: Hector Saldana's family is Mexican. But they've lived in the U.S. for generations. As a kid, Saldana used to visit relatives in small Mexican towns that he says back then were boring. Now they look and feel like war zones. Saldana hopes someday, they'll be boring again.

Neda Ulaby, NPR News.

(Soundbite of song, "Twelve Heads in a Bag")

Mr. SALDANA: (Singing) Twelve heads in a bag, a soldier's (unintelligible), tortured and shot up, boys will be boys. All the Mexican…

SIEGEL: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

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