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A scene from San Vincente, Colombia. | Photo: Matěj Ptaszek
A scene from San Vincente, Colombia.| Photo: Matěj Ptaszek
Matěj Ptaszek -

Songs Written with a Machete #7: If They Put Him in Jail, He'll Get Out the Next Day

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 the last episode, I used a wild incident from the life of irrepressible savage Héctor Lavoe to introduce this immensely important salsa musician, whose songs perfectly captured the spirit, life and philosophy of the Hispanic world. It would be a shame not to take a look at another one of Hector's famous hits, which swiftly and vividly depicts the atmosphere of Latin America. So let's sit down, pour ourselves a glass of Andean Anise, light a smuggled Havana cigar, snuggle into a hammock knitted by a Nicaraguan guerrilla fighter and listen.

Juanito Alimaña

The street is a jungle made of cement
and wild beasts, for sure, 
and no one leaves here filled with joy.
Anywhere the worst awaits you,
anywhere the worst awaits you.

Juanito Alimaña cunningly arrives at the counter,
casually pulls out his knife
He demands that they hand him the cash register
He takes out the notes, pulls out a pistol, and bang!

On his flight,
he leaves like the wind
and though they've seen him,
no one has seen anything.

Juanito Alimaña goes on a rampage,
he drinks rum,
he has his orgy.

People are afraid of him
because he is dangerous.
You have to be brave 
to mess with him.

If they put him in jail,
he'll get out the next day
because a cousin of his
is working for the police.

Juanito Alimaña
has got a knack for pure malice
and he always aligns himself
with the one at the top.

And even though he stole money
from every second guy,
everybody talks about it
but no one gives him away.

His world,
that's women, smoking, and rum,
assaults and mugging, that's the life of Juanito Alimaña.

When he was a little boy,
he asked for little things
and if he didn't get them, he'd snatch them.
No matter how, he'd take them.

Look, look at his hands,
he doesn't have a single callus.
He's never worked
and he always looks so handsome.

People are afraid of the dude
because he's a real badass,
in the neighbourhood,
he has beaten up every guy.

His world,
that's women, smoking, and rum,
assaults and mugging, that's the life of Juanito Alimaña. [...]

The 1983 song about the harsh world in the concrete jungle is still topping the charts not only in Colombia.

Police station with loopholes in Medellín, Colombia. | Photo: Matěj Ptaszek
Tagy Songs Written With a Machete Hector Lavoe

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Matěj Ptaszek