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Street musicians in Medellín (Colombia). | Photo: Matěj Ptaszek
Street musicians in Medellín (Colombia). | Photo: Matěj Ptaszek
Matěj Ptaszek - Wed, September 20, 2023 - 08:00

Songs Written with a Machete #11: Cardboard Roofs

I spent eighteen months of my three-year South American adventure in the Colombian wilderness, in a mountain village near the infamous Medellín. As a bluesman, I was impressed by local songs, whose lyrics would wake up even Oblomov from his lethargy. I decided to translate the juiciest pieces and bring them to you in the series Songs Written with a Machete.

One of the pressing issues in the land of magical realism is poverty. It hits you hard when you learn that a woman in the house next door has died of something as banal as appendicitis – just because she didn't have the small amount of money for a bus to take her through the jungle to a town twenty kilometres away, where they have a hospital with an operating theatre.

In neighbouring Ecuador, I saw a skinny Indian woman on the street, kneeling barefoot in front of a wayside cross, then kissing the feet of the crucified Christ and thanking him out loud for all he was doing for her. Obviously, the lady had nothing. Her only possessions were the torn clothes on her malnourished figure. At that moment, I  realised that gratitude can take many forms, including a heavy feeling in one's heart.

No wonder that poverty cannot be ignored by the local humanists and intellectuals who have been trying, with bulldog determination, to raise awareness of those who, although they can do something about poverty, cynically do nothing. One of the most famous protest singers was the Venezuelan artist Ali Primera, who composed one of the most impressive songs.

Cardboard roofs

How sad the rain sounds
On the cardboard roofs,
How sad my people live
In the cardboard houses.

The worker is walking down the street
Almost dragging his feet
Because of the weight of his suffering.
See, there is a lot of suffering!
Look how heavy the suffering is!

At the top, he leaves his pregnant wife,
Down below lies the city
lost in the bushes.
Today is the same as yesterday,
That's his life without tomorrow.

There the rain falls,
The suffering is coming, is coming
But if the rain passes
When will suffering pass?
When will hope come?

Children of the colour of my land
With the same scars,
Millionaires of worms
And, thus:
How sad the children live
In cardboard houses,
How happy the dogs live
in the exploiter's home.

You won't believe it
But there are dog schools
And they educate them
So they don't bite the newspapers.
But the boss
For years, for many years
He's been biting the worker.

How sad the rain sounds
In the cardboard houses,
How far away hope goes by
above cardboard roofs.


One of Colombia's most famous songwriters was killed by a drunk driver in 1985, but his song will forever be one of the modern psalms of South American intellectuals and dissidents.

Tagy Písně psané mačetou Ali Primera

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Matěj Ptaszek