Sergio Vega: The reports of his death were exaggerated... at first

When the Mexican singer heard rumours of his own murder by a drugs gang, he quickly dispelled them – only to be shot and killed hours later. Guy Adams reports

At the time, it sounded either brave, or foolish. With the benefit of hindsight, it was probably both. On Saturday afternoon, Sergio Vega, a Mexican musician known as "El Shaka" gave an interview to an entertainment website announcing that rumours of his grisly murder had been greatly exaggerated.

"It's happened to me for years now," he complained. "Someone tells a radio station or a newspaper I've been killed or suffered a terrible accident. Then I have to telephone my dear mother – who suffers from heart trouble – to reassure her that in fact I am still alive."

This time, Vega sadly never got to make that call. Around 9.30pm, as he was being driven to a late-night concert in Angostura, a town near the US border in his native state of Sinaloa, a gang armed with automatic weapons drove up to his speeding vehicle in a white truck and opened fire. The 40-year-old singer's assistant Sergio Montiel, who was also in the car and miraculously survived, told reporters that after the vehicle was forced off the road, the gunmen ran up to the passenger side, where Vega had been sitting, and "finished him off" with shots to the head and chest. More than 30 bullets were found in his pockmarked corpse.

Yesterday, as fans across Mexico paid tribute to "El Shaka", the eighth star of the Grupero genre of Latin music to have been murdered in recent years, a lawyer for Vega's family blamed the killing on car thieves, saying he was a "good man" who did not have any "problems" with the sort of people who carry out organised hit jobs.

But others doubt that assessment. As both the circumstances and timing of the crime suggest, they say, Vega was almost certainly taken out because he'd become entangled in one of the many ongoing turf wars between Mexico's drug cartels. His band, Los Reyes del Norte, had in recent years become famed for their "narcocorridos", a genre of romanticised ballads set against a polka beat which recount, in glamorous detail, the lives, loves and murderous exploits of the country's most feared cocaine barons.

The life of a narcocorrido singer can be highly lucrative, since rich gangsters – who make profits estimated at 3,000 per cent on drugs smuggled from Central and South America, where they are produced, to the USA where they are largely consumed – are prepared to pay tens of thousands of dollars to be immortalised in specially- commissioned songs.

It isn't exactly a safe line of business to be in, though. A singer who writes catchy songs honouring the criminal activities of one gang immediately puts himself somewhere near the top of the hit-list of rival syndicates, who dislike seeing praise publicly heaped upon their enemies. Vega was no exception. A translation of the chorus of one of his recent hits reads: "I'm going to ask you a favour/Shaka told his people/I want to have some coca paste processed/Because that's what the customer wants/At the end if it rains and I get wet/You will get wet as well."

In gangster argot, "making it rain" means to shower bullets on a victim.

In the past three years, a string of prominent Grupero stars have been kidnapped and brutally killed, including Sergio Gomez, a Grammy-nominated singer with the band K-Paz de la Sierra, kidnapped after a concert in the western state of Michoacan in 2007 and found strangled several days later.

Although the eight dead musicians pale into insignificance when measured against the official total of 22,000 who have been killed since December 2006 – when Mexico's President Felipe Calderon announced that he was declaring "war" on the drug-smuggling business – their deaths have nonetheless provoked soul-searching.

Police chiefs last year cancelled Grupero concerts in border towns like Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez, amid fears that they would end in violence and a prominent politician, Oscar Martin Arce, recently proposed a law to restrict all music and film that celebrates crime. "Society sees drug ballads as nice, pleasant, inconsequential and harmless, but they are the opposite," he said.

That has only served to further glamorise the genre, though, and the aftermath of Vega's killing saw YouTube forced to remove dozens of grisly films setting footage of his bullet-ridden Cadillac to recordings of some of his most famous ballads.

The singer, famed for his white cowboy hats and thick moustache, was one of 13 brothers from a working-class family who was born in Ciudad Obregon in the northern state of Sonora in 1969. He and several siblings came to prominence in 1989 after they signed a deal with the Phoenix label Joey Records as the band Los Hermanos Vega.

In 1994, Vega fell out with several brothers and split from the group to found Los Reyes del Norte. They began recording narcocorridos roughly six years ago and, perhaps ironically, were one of the groups performed at the concert at which Sergio Gomez had been kidnapped.

Asked about that killing, along with the murder of singer Carlos Ocaranza – who was gunned down last August as he left a bar where he had given a concert in Guadalajara – Vega was philosophical.

"I navigate through heavy themes (in my songs)," he said recently. "It can be a bit frightening but you have to put your faith in God."

Grupero victims

Sergio Gomez

The lead singer of the group K-Paz de la Sierra, Gomez was abducted by a fleet of 10 Chevrolets, tortured and strangled in 2007. He had reportedly received death threats warning him not to appear in the drugs haven of Michoacan. His management team always insisted that he had no connections to the drugs trade.



Valentin Elizalde

Elizalde had a huge hit with his narcocorrido "To My Enemies". After an apparently mocking YouTube video was posted playing the song over images of corpses of members of the los Zetas gang, the cartel was said to be incensed. Elizalde and two friends were gunned down in front of dozens of witnesses after a concert in Texas in 2006.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Ben Little, right, is a Labour supporter while Jonathan Rogers supports the Green Party
general election 2015
News
The 91st Hakone Ekiden Qualifier at Showa Kinen Park, Tokyo, 2014
news
Life and Style
Former helicopter pilot Major Tim Peake will become the first UK astronaut in space for over 20 years
food + drinkNothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
News
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading
football
Life and Style
health
Voices
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
news
Life and Style
Buyers of secondhand cars are searching out shades last seen in cop show ‘The Sweeney’
motoringFlares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own