Rap Song About Violence In Mexico Strikes Chord With Listeners

Dec 2, 2015
Originally published on December 2, 2015 9:42 pm
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

A song by a Mexican rap star is bringing new attention to the violence in the border city of Juarez. It features the voice of a grieving mother who confronted the Mexican president after the murder of her two sons. Monica Ortiz Uribe brings us the story of the song and the man behind it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "31 DE ENERO")

LUIS BARRON: (Rapping in Spanish).

MONICA ORTIZ URIBE, BYLINE: He calls himself Sabor Gandaya, which roughly translates as Taste of Mischief. In this song, his first to hit the local airwaves, he tells listeners he was born on the border, on the Mexican side where life is more difficult.

BARRON: My song is about violence. It's about how my city's changed.

URIBE: Sabor Gandaya's real name is Luis Barron. He grew up poor, the son of farm workers, raised on the streets of Juarez. Today, he's a father who watched his city turn to chaos starting in 2008 when a turf war broke out between two rival drug cartels.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "31 DE ENERO")

BARRON: (Rapping in Spanish).

URIBE: "Our children stopped playing ball," he raps, "and instead became killers and extortionists." Barron sings about a now infamous birthday party massacre in 2010 where 16 people, mostly teenagers, were murdered. Their deaths prompted a visit by then-president Felipe Calderon.

BARRON: All the politicians were saying, hey, Mr. Presidente, welcome; this is your city. (Speaking Spanish), this lady steps up. You know what, Mr. President, for me, you are not welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "31 DE ENERO")

LUZ MARIA DAVILA: (Speaking Spanish).

URIBE: Mixed into the song are the words of Luz Maria Davila, the mother of two teens killed at the party. She pushed past bodyguards at a public meeting and confronted the president.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "31 DE ENERO")

DAVILA: (Speaking Spanish).

URIBE: "If they had been your children," she says, "you would have turned over every rock looking for the assassin. But I don't have the resources to do that." After recording his song in a homemade studio, Barron took it to the Juarez Public Radio station.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Speaking Spanish).

URIBE: Manager Julio Guereca was moved by the lyrics.

JULIO GUERECA: (Speaking Spanish).

URIBE: "The first time I heard it," Guereca says, "I got goosebumps." He put the song on the air, and listeners responded immediately.

GUERECA: (Speaking Spanish).

URIBE: "Who is that, they asked, and where can I get the album?" Requests for the song come in daily, even as officials on both sides of the border work to erase traces of this city's violent past in hopes of attracting tourists and foreign investment. While the murder rate in Juarez has gone down substantially, Barron says the scars of violence still linger.

BARRON: I'm tired. I'm sad. I'm disappointed. That's why I'm writing this and trying to express how common citizens feel.

URIBE: Barron is getting steady requests for public appearances, and his fan base on Facebook is growing by the thousands. Still, his biggest fans are at home - his three young daughters.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN: (Rapping in Spanish).

URIBE: For NPR News, I'm Monica Ortiz Uribe in Ciudad Juarez.

BARRON: Yo, yo.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Yo, yo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.