September 14, 2008: a couple dressed in suspiciously baggy clothes with a two-year-old in their arms turns up at passport control in Tocumen airport in Panama. The woman lifts the toddler up a bit as she passes through the metal detector and the police see an odd lump on her leg. They search her and... bang! They discover each of the pair is carrying two-and-a-half kilos of cocaine crudely attached to their bodies with adhesive tape. They plead they have been victims of a trap, that they were forced into it and monitored by a group of drug traffickers. Nobody believes them - that's what drug mules always say. The police take the girl to an orphanage and the couple ends up in a Panama jail. It's nothing out of the ordinary. It happens several times a day at Tocumen.
Angel Dust was the closest thing late-90s Barcelona had to a nightlife king
He and his wife got six years and eight months for trying to smuggle drugs
The strange thing about the case is that three years later, the guy who was caught, a white guy from Barcelona who nobody thought would last more than a night in the slammer, has become a music producer from prison, appearing on the news, composing a hit song for peace and holding a concert at the Panama Canal. In September, he will release the album he left unfinished when he began his descent into hell.
The whole story is set to be told in a documentary about his dramatic adventure. Its director, Héctor Herrera, has spent three years working on the film, which he has titled Angels and dust. That's because the person arrested in Tocumen that day was Ángel Francisco López Morán, better known as DJ Professor Angel Dust, the closest thing that late-90s Barcelona, then in the middle of post-Olympic euphoria, had to a nightlife king. He produced, DJ-ed and was a partner in fashionable nightspots. "He arrived at an incipient moment," remembers Ricard Robles, co-director of Barcelona's Sónar electronic music festival. "There was no dance music scene and, together with Ángel Molina and Sideral [who died in 2006], he became a leading figure. He knew perfectly where he wanted to take his career. He was very methodical and serious."
Paco, as his friends know him, traveled the world with his record bag. One Wednesday night after a DJ session at the Omm hotel in Barcelona, a Nigerian guy came up to him, he says, and offered him a job performing at a wedding in Panama. He was busy finishing his latest record and he had to DJ 10 days later at the opening of a Nike shop in Barcelona. "But they offered me the chance to go with my wife and my daughter a few days before and take a vacation," he remembers from the El Renacer jail in Panama. "We hadn't had a break in two years."
He accepted, and they took a plane. They first put them up in a good hotel. They received a call there to tell them the performance was going to be postponed. Days passed. They changed hotel. Finally, Paco says, they received a call. "On Sunday morning they apologized and told me they would give me half the fee for the trouble. They made us stop by a lousy motel on the way to the airport. One of the men with whom we were speaking received us in a room, took my daughter in his arms and threatened to kill us with his gun if we didn't do want he wanted." And that is how they became drug mules.
Innocent or guilty, he and his wife got six years and eight months each for what they would then do. The defense could only plead mistakes in the procedure, as the public prosecutor did not admit any other evidence. "They gave enough information for the authorities to capture the owners of the shipment, though the national authorities never did what was relevant," explains his lawyer, Arturo González Baso. "I am absolutely convinced they are innocent. But it is very difficult to prove they were forced."
From the rough La Joya prison, he was moved to El Renacer, a more 'comfortable' jail that had a ramshackle recording studio that wasn't being used. Paco already ran the prison's Catholic choir and got hold of a guitar. Later he managed to get sent a soundcard, speakers, headphones and a Mac from Barcelona. "Only my real friends helped me. All the nightlife people, all the party animals in Barcelona, all the cokeheads, turned their back on me," he says.
In no time, he was back in the spotlight. The toughest guys in the jail began to pass by his studio, he says, and he earned their respect. "They were violent, frustrated people. Through music they developed self-esteem and affection. The people who are here have had a lack of love. It's about giving a positive message." Two of them have already signed music contracts in the outside world. Paco has been allowed out several times to record his track Paz en el ghetto with several big names who have lent their voice. His latest trip out was to go on stage in front of 10,000 people and play the song.
In January he will be halfway through his sentence, which will open up possibilities: to go out with a tag or perhaps go to an open prison. For now it's difficult for him to return to Barcelona, where his daughter awaits him. He hasn't gone back to see her in three years. She has grown up with her grandparents and his wife is in another prison.