The story of Pedro Navaja
Pedro Navaja is a Latin American musical classic. The story-song written by Ruben Blades in 1978, is about a bandit called Pedro Navaja, who knifes a prostitute to rob her, but is caught unawares when she draws a gun and shoots him in the head. They both die. In the end a drunkard who stumbles upon the bodies takes the knife, the revolver and the money, and walks away! “Life gives you surprises”, the chorus sings. The song deals with life, death and surprises, in a dark humour fashion.
As much as the tragic nature of the story goes, the Salsa beat is bouncy and cheerful. The song narrates life during the “old days”, about the stories and scenes common in Hispanic America , even though the tale takes place in New York city. It gives a feel of a South America, which was both violent and volatile, in the period between the late seventies and early eighties.
Ruben Blades is one of the most powerful songwriters in Salsa history. The singer from Panama, talks about societal issues, such as oppression, crime, inequality and the significance of life, in most of his songs. Ruben Blades has indeed transformed Salsa music into a meaningful experience and Pedro Navaja is perhaps one of the finest rewritten songs in Salsa, in his album Siembra.
Navaja means ‘knife’ or ‘razor’ which is a resemblance to Blades’ surname. Pedro Navaja was created at a time when Salsa was the beat of the Bronx and the Spanish neighbourhoods, where crime, drugs and poetry was a part of life. This cult song is a condemnation of the elements of Capitalism and the brunt of its impact on the lives of the common people.
Pedro Navaja is inspired by Louis Armstrong’s ‘Mack the Knife’, and has become the best selling Salsa record in history.