Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Sep 5 (EFE). "El Noa Noa" was the hit song written by the late singer-songwriter Juan Gabriel that immortalized the bar and dance hall of the same name where his career began and which remains unforgettable for the many Juarez natives who remember those years with nostalgia.

In that bar located just a few blocks from the Santa Fe Street Bridge leading across the border to the U.S. city of El Paso, Alberto Aguilera Valadez, Juan Gabriel's real name, got his first chance to sing to a live audience when he was just 16.

"Meche (Mercedes Alvarez, a client of the bar and a friend of Juan Gabriel) was the one who brought him in as contraband because he was underage," and that could have caused problems...the bar could have been shut down, said David Bencomo, son of the owner.

The Noa Noa opened its doors in 1964. "It was the era of rock 'n' roll, the Rolling Stones, the Beatles," and when a local group started singing the latest hits: "that was the basis of its success," Bencomo said in an interview with EFE.

The city was full of Americans because at the time, during the Vietnam War, there was a nearby base with 20,000 soldiers "and they were allowed to come have fun here and spend all they had because they didn't know if they were coming back," he said.

In 1966, Meche asked the musicians to let the future Juan Gabriel sing with them. "He likes to sing and has good songs," she said.

"The same people who played with him asked my dad to let him come there more," said the owner of the Yankees Bar, located just a few meters (yards) from where the Noa Noa once stood.

"He came and did what he knew how to do and that was the start of a great career - the Noa Noa was the first place he had an audience and where he earned a salary of $5.00 a day, he recalled.

He remained there "about 18 months, warming up, getting ready to be an adult, and when he gained enough confidence, he began to leave the Noa Noa" and land contracts locally.

At the time his stage name was Adan Luna and he became "the budding star of all the places around here - the Boom Boom, the Malibu, the Cucaracha," Bencomo said.

"It was his destiny, Alberto was born for that," though he had to overcome many difficulties along the way, including a childhood without his mother, Victoria Valadez, who put him in a Juarez orphanage when he was very little because she lacked the money to support him.

Though the artist was born in 1950 in the village of Paracuaro in the western state of Michoacan, his family moved when he was a baby to this town on the border, where his mother worked as a cleaning lady in a house that Juan Gabriel bought years later.

As for Noa Noa, in 2004 a fire caused by a short circuit burned it down in just two hours. "Everything was lost, I had an immense gallery of the history of Noa Noa," he said regretfully.

"If we restore Noa Noa," if his house on September 16 Avenue is made into a museum, and "if his ashes are placed there, we'll give a real boost to this city," Bencomo said.

By Paola Martinez Castro