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This educator writes 'anti-narcocorridos' — songs that tell the story of heroes

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

Corridos are a popular musical style in Mexico. They're songs that tell a story from beginning to end. Singer, educator and activist Vivir Quintana describes it as a newscast that you sing.

VIVIR QUINTANA: (Speaking Spanish).

RASCOE: "It's made up of the name, date and place where its main character was born and tells the tale of how they lived up until their untimely death."

But in recent years, the corrido has grown wildly popular for one of its variants - narcocorridos, which use the same narrative structure to tell the stories of the bosses or capos of organized crime. In a country where drug violence runs rampant, there's no shortage of narcocorridos. But Quintana, who used to teach at a secondary school, felt uncomfortable with her students listening to songs that glorified criminals.

QUINTANA: (Speaking Spanish).

RASCOE: She decided to flip the script and create anti-narcocorridos - songs that center heroes she says are worthy of being looked up to, like journalists. In Mexico, violence against that group is at an all-time high. Just this year, nine journalists have been killed there.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EL CORRIDO DE MILO VELA")

QUINTANA: (Singing in Spanish).

RASCOE: "His job was high risk, but he performed passionately. For any journalist, oh, how dangerous life is. When you seek the truth, the police hide."

Quintana is describing Miguel Angel Lopez Velasco, known as Milo Vela, a Mexican journalist who was murdered, along with his wife and son, in the city of Veracruz in 2011. Vela is a central character of Quintana's newest song.

QUINTANA: (Speaking Spanish).

RASCOE: "He was a kind person," she says, "committed to reporting the truth, truths that often made powerful people uncomfortable."

The anti-narcocorrido is the result of a collaboration between Quintana and Reporters Without Borders, a nonprofit that defends press freedom around the world. In Mexico, they're focused on raising awareness on the increasing violence against journalists.

BALBINA FLORES: (Speaking Spanish).

RASCOE: Balbina Flores is a representative from Reporters Without Borders in Mexico. She worked closely with Quintana to bring the corrido to life. She says authorities have to start taking violence against journalists more seriously and provide thorough criminal investigations in its aftermath. Quintana hopes that by celebrating Vela's life and dogged journalism, listeners will understand.

QUINTANA: (Speaking Spanish).

RASCOE: "Violence against the press is violence against all of us."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EL CORRIDO DE MILO VELA")

QUINTANA: (Singing in Spanish).

RASCOE: "There are flames that can't be put out, even when others try to silence them. There are candles that are eternal, even when swallowed by the sea, like that one of Milo Vela, which lights freedom's way."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EL CORRIDO DE MILO VELA")

QUINTANA: (Singing in Spanish). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.