Netflix's 'Narcos': The Songs That Give the Series Its Colombian Flavor

Daniel Daza/Netflix
Wagner Moura as Pablo Escobar in the Netflix Original Series "Narcos."

Vintage salsa, cumbia and other cool tracks set the scenes.

The first bloodbath in Netflix’s Narcos takes place at a disco-ball decorated, florescent-lit karaoke bar. Patrons unsuspectingly groove to classic Colombian salsa band Fruko y sus Tesos’ song “El Preso” before the police blow in.

The song, Fruko’s most famous and one that’s instantly recognizable to any salsa fan, begins with the shout (in Spanish), “Hey, I’m talking to you from prison!”

“Perfect use!” says Jamar Chess, who placed the track, along with over three dozen others, with Narcos music supervisor Liza Richardson for use in the series. Chess and his team are now at work sourcing music for season 2 of the series.

The selection of tracks for Narcos was the result of “a lot of back and forth” between Chess and Richardson and music consultant Marc Mondello, pondering questions like, “what would Pablo Escobar’s mom be listening to in this dinner scene?” or, what track would fit a Narcos' Christmas?

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Chess is the president of Sunflower Entertainment, a publishing and licensing house focused on Latin music since 2002. The grandson of Leonard Chess, co-founder (with his brother Phil) of the historic Chess Records label, Jamar Chess made his connection to Colombian music through his partner, Juan Carlos Barguil, who was CFO of the Chess family publishing company ARC music.

Jamar Chess’ Latin music licensing venture scored big when it took on the catalogue of Colombian label Discos Fuentes, home to recordings by Fruko and Colombian salsa god Joe Arroyo. According to Chess, label revenues have increased “about 300 percent” since the relationship began, the result of syncs and streaming revenues fueled by attention to the tracks brought by syncs. Sunflower also represents Colombian label Codiscos (Grupo Niche), and several Dominican labels and artists in the U.S.

The salsa, cumbia and other period songs are usually heard as just snippets in the series -- as is the norm with background tracks. But they help bring authenticity and continuity to the production, and will likely lead curious listeners to searches on YouTube, and possibly spike streaming for tracks like “El Preso.”

Here are more of Chess’ favorite tracks heard in Narcos, with the episodes and scenes you can catch them in: 

Episode 5: “Porro Bonito,” Orquesta Ritmo de Sabanas

Escobar dances with his wife Tata to this popular folkloric dance song.

Episode 8: "Las Calenas Son Como Las Flores,” The Latin Brothers

The Latin Brothers, another seventies group originally led by Fruko of Fruko y sus Tesos fame, also featured Joe Arroyo. This smoking song is heard as Escobar plays a pickup soccer game with other Narcos. 

Episode 9: “Yo Soy El Punto Cubano,” Fruko y sus Tesos

The song made famous by the late Cuban country queen Celina Gonzalez accompanies a look inside La Cathedral, the lavish prison built expressly for Escobar in Medellín.

Episode 9: “Tabaco y Ron,” Rodolfo y su Tipica

This classic cumbia track plays under the end credits of the episode.