Rap Song Memorializes Border City Juárez' Violent Past
November 24, 2015
Mónica Ortiz Uribe
Juárez hip hop artist Sabor Gandaya preforms two songs live in the studio of Orbita FM, the local public radio station.

A new rap song about violence in the Mexican border city of Juárez is getting a lot of attention despite political efforts to bury the city’s ugly past.

The song highlights a massacre that happened on January 31, 2010, and marked the beginning of the most violent year Juárez had seen since the Mexican Revolution. The Villas De Salvarcar massacre, named for the working-class neighborhood where it occurred, left 16 dead after a group of gunmen opened fire on a birthday party. Most of those killed were teenagers.

The author of the song is a newly minted hip hop artist who calls himself Sabor Gandaya. The lyrics start off with an autobiography:

Yo nací en la frontera, yo nací de este lado
Del lado mas difícil, del lado mexicano
Donde la gente buena se mata trabajando.

He tells people he was born on the border, on the Mexican side, where life is more difficult. And even as he points to his city's flaws, like corruption and drug trafficking, in the chorus he repeats that he's not ashamed to say he's from Juárez.

A mi no me da pena cuando voy a otros lugares
Les digo con orgullo que soy de Ciudad Juárez  

Sabor Gandaya roughly translates as "Taste of Mischief." It's derived from a childhood nickname. His real name is Luis Barron. He's the son of farm workers who picked chile piquin in the fields of southern New Mexico.

"My song is about violence, it's about how my city changed," Barron said.

Barron grew up on the streets of a rough Juárez neighborhood where he joined a gang for friendship and protection. He was a good student and dreamed of someday becoming a famous soccer player. Instead he became a father at age 19 and today works as a delivery man for a community clinic across the border in El Paso. Driving alone in his van, his head begins to fill with rhymes.

Pero en los '90s todo era diferente
Eran mas la gente buena que los delincuentes
No teníamos Walmart ni lineas en los puentes
Y todos los negocios eran independientes

In the '90s, he sings, good people outnumbered the criminals, there were no Walmarts or long lines at the border, and all the businesses were independent.

Things changed 20 years later when, in 2008, a turf war broke out between two rival drug cartels that fought to control the doorway into the world's most lucrative drug market. Midway through his song, Barron sings about the birthday massacre, which prompted a visit by then President Felipe Calderon.

"All the politicians were saying, 'Hey Mr. Presidente, welcome, this is your city,' and all of a sudden this lady steps up, 'You know what, Mister President, for me you are not welcome…no eres bienvenido'," he said.

Barron mixes the words of that woman, as recorded by the media, into his song. The woman is Luz Maria Davila, the mother of two teens killed at the party. She pushed past bodyguards at a public meeting and confronted President Calderon.

"If they had been your children," she told him, "You would have turned over every rock looking for the assassin, but I don't have the resources to do that."

To this day four people have been convicted as participants in the massacre and another was exonerated. Davila continues to work at an American factory based in Juárez, assembling car speakers for less than $10 a day.

Barron recorded his song in a homemade studio and in October took it to the Juárez public radio station. Manager Julio Guereca was moved by the lyrics.
"The first time I heard it," Guereca said, "I got goosebumps."  

He put the song on air and listeners responded immediately.

"Not a day goes by without people calling and asking 'Who is that? Where can I get the album?'" Guereca said.

The song's popularity is growing even as officials on both sides of the border try to erase traces of the city’s violent past, in hopes of attracting tourists and foreign investment. This year the mayor of Juárez removed a three-ton sign that read "No More Weapons" from the base of a border bridge. The sign was meant as a message to gun smugglers coming from the United States. Later the mayor called for a boycott of the Hollywood film "Sicario," because of its violent portrayal of Juárez.

Also this year, in El Paso, the city manager ordered the removal of a sculpture by a local artist that depicted birds carrying away pieces of confiscated guns. The sculpture was meant to symbolize peace in Juárez.  

The murder rate in Juárez has gone down substantially, but drug violence continues to plague other parts of Mexico.

"I'm tired, I'm sad, I'm disappointed," Barron said. "That's why I'm writing (these songs) and trying to express…how common citizens feel."

Even though he's yet to cut a full album and has only recorded two songs, 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.