Skip to main content
Life of Cowboys | Photo: Matěj Ptaszek
Life of Cowboys | Photo: Matěj Ptaszek
Matěj Ptaszek -

Songs Written with a Machete #5: "Pedro Navaja"

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. In today's episode, we're going to look at the song "Pedro Navaja", in which its author, Ruben Bladez, a genius of musical intensity, combined magical realism with relentless lyricism.

One tropical morning on the farm we rented in Colombia, I went to pee on a banana tree as usual when suddenly five guns were pointing at me.  At that moment, I didn't know which hand to hold my "weenie" with and which hand to use to surrender. I'll never forget the mischievous laugh of the professional soldados: "Tranquilo parsero! No pasa nada! We'll just check your farm and property for the bandits who ambushed the mayor last week and shot up his car."

And so I encountered one of the unfortunate phenomena of Latin America – armed robbery. Some of the criminal stunts of the rough outlaws became so famous that the masters of salsa wrote songs about them. One such song is the legendary hit by the cult salsa singer Ruben Blades.

Pedro Navaja

Around the corner of the old town, I saw him pass by
With the sway that handsome men have when they walk, 
his hands in the pockets of his coat as always
so that they wouldn't know in which one he carries the knife.

He wears a wide-brimmed hat tilted to the side
and trainers, so that he can make off if there's trouble, 
dark glasses so they won't know what he's looking at
and a gold tooth that shines when he laughs.

About three blocks away from that corner, a woman
is walking down the pavement for the fifth time,
she enters a building and has a drink to forget
that the day is slow and she has no clients.

A car passes very slowly down the boulevard,
it isn't marked, but they all know it's a cop.
Pedro Navaja, with his hands inside his trench coat,
looks and smiles, and the gold tooth shines again.

As he walks, his eyes wander from corner to corner.
There isn't a soul, the boulevard is deserted,
suddenly that woman comes out of the doorway
and Pedro Navaja clenches his fist inside his coat.

He looks one way, he looks the other and sees no-one
and at a run, but without noise, he crosses the street
and meanwhile, on the other pavement, there goes that woman
grumbling, because she didn't make money to eat. 

As she walked, she took out a revolver from her old coat.
She was going to put it into her purse to keep it out of the way.
A .38, Smith & Wesson Special
that she carried to be safe.

And Pedro Navaja, dagger in his hand, went after her,
the gold tooth was lighting up the whole avenue, it was easy!
As he laughed, the dagger sank in mercilessly
when all of a sudden a shot like a cannon fired.

Pedro Navaja fell on the pavement and saw that woman
who, with the revolver in her hand and mortally wounded, told him
"I was thinking: today is not my day, I'm out of luck".
"But Pedro Navaja, you're worse, you're beyond help".

And believe me, although there was noise, nobody came out.
There were no onlookers, no questions, no one cried.
Only a drunk tripped over the two dead bodies,
he took the revolver, the dagger, two pesos and went away.

And stumbling he went off singing out of tune
the chorus that I have brought you, hear the message of my song:

Life brings you surprises,
Life is full of surprises, oh God!

Tagy Songs Written With a Machete Colombia

If you have found an error or typo in the article, please let us know by e-mail

Matěj Ptaszek