It’s a big hit in Central America with its lyrics about la bestia, or the ‘train of death’, that migrants ride up to the US border. But few listeners know that it is all part of a multi-million dollar propaganda campaign to dissuade them, Patrick Barkham reports for The Guardian.
It might just be the most tuneful piece of propaganda since The Simpsons’ “Drop Da Bomb”. La Bestia, “the beast”, mimics the traditional Mexican narrative ballads called “corridos”. With catchy Caribbean-style instrumentation, it tells the story of “the Beast from the South, this wretched train of death”, a notoriously dangerous freight train on which migrants hitch a lift to the United States. It is currently being played on 21 radio stations in Central America. But what listeners are not being told is that the song was devised by a US advertising agency, for US Customs and Border Protection, as part of a multi-million dollar anti-immigration campaign to halt the influx of migrants from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.
Migra corridos – migra is a derogatory term for US immigration officials – have been around for a few years. In 1998, the US Border Patrol made public service announcements to warn potential migrants of the danger of crossing the border and commissioned an advertising agency to compose tragic songs such as El Más Grande Enemigo about fatal crossings in the tradition of the narco corridos, the melodramatic ballads about Mexico‘s drug lords.
Do musicians feel compromised by their involvement? La Bestia’s composer, Carlo Nicolau, has admitted misgivings about working for border control. “I thought I was really going to bed with the devil,” he told the Daily Beast. “But I’ve learned that a lot of them are risking their lives to help people not die.”
The US authorities say that to declare their involvement in the songs would dissuade people from listening. And the songs are, of course, only a small part of a growing government campaign to address border crossing: President Obama has asked Congress for $3.7bn of emergency funds to halt the flow of illegal immigrants from Central America.
Musical propaganda has had a rich history, ever since Josef Goebbels observed that it “affects the heart and emotions more than the intellect”. The Hitler Youth certainly understood that songs are one of the most powerful builders of a sense of community, and radio broadcasts have been used to boost or undermine morale in conflict ever since the second world war.
As contemporary anti-immigrant “information” campaigns go, La Bestia is rather more sophisticated than the British government’s diastrous “Go home” billboard vans, which were banned by the Advertising Standards Agency last year. Given this blunder, it seems unlikely that the creatives at the Home Office will be commissioning Romanian techno to warn legal migrants of the terrors of Victoria coach station any time soon.
For the original report go to http://www.theguardian.com/world/shortcuts/2014/jul/16/la-bestia-song-commissioned-us-border-control-stop-immigration