Lucky Devil (El suertúo)

Written by: Víctor Canto and Luis Cifuentes (lyrics) and Roberto Parra (music)

Detention centre: Campamento de Prisioneros Chacabuco

Testimony by: Luis Cifuentes Seves

Date of experience: November 1973- February 1974

My memories about the song:

This cueca* was composed at Chacabuco some time between November 1973 and February 1974, and was sung by Los de Chacabuco, of which Víctor Canto and I were members.

This song was written very quickly and was ready in less than a day. I don’t remember exactly where we were when we composed it, but it may have been the house I shared with other comrades or the house where the group rehearsed – located in what we called ‘the civic district’ – or seated at the group tables where we ate.

The group Los de Chacabuco was created and directed by Ángel Parra. Its members (in alphabetical order) were: Víctor Canto, Manuel Castro, Ángel Cereceda Parra (Ángel Parra), Luis Cifuentes, Marcelo Concha, Luis Corvalán Márquez, Antonio González, Manuel Ipinza, Ernesto Parra, Julio Vega and Ricardo Yocelewski.

The first time we played the cueca at the weekly show, the audience roared in laughter because the situations described were so familiar to everyone.

This cueca was secretly recorded at Chacabuco by Alberto Corvalán Castillo, son of the Communist Party secretary general Luis Corvalán, with assistance from Guillermo Orrego and Domingo Chávez. Alberto was to die in Bulgaria as a consequence of the torture to which he had been subjected at the National Stadium’s velodrome that caused him irreparable heart damage.

It was recorded from underneath the wood plank stage the prisoners themselves had built. An official stationed at the concentration camp supplied the cassette recorder. Ángel Parra took the cassette out of the camp and it was first produced as a vinyl LP in Italy between 1974 and 1975. This cueca also appears on Ángel Parra’s record Pisagua + Chacabuco, produced in 2003 in Chile.

The words might be difficult to understand as they refer to concentration camp culture, making fun of the military with such subtlety that they never caught on.

 


* Cueca: a lively dance genre in 6/8 or 3/4 time, usually for voice(s) and accompaniment, and suitable for couple dancing with a predetermined choreography.

This testimony was first published in Spanish on 17 December 2014.

Audio / Image

Clandestine recording made by political prisoners in Chacabuco in 1974.

Lyrics

From the Stadium we arrived
flying and without delay
a band greeted us,
damn, and a good beating (1)
from the Stadium we arrived.

Freezing at night,
hot during the day,
my sorrows
would go on at Chacabuco.

My sorrows, oh yes,
I  don’t see one,
I nearly passed out
from the vaccination. (2)

From the vaccination, oh yes,
lily of the valley tree
every time I bathe
the water cuts off.

The water cuts off, oh yes
put on your cap,
because eating just beans
I will rocket away.

I will rocket away, oh yes
over the fence,
it ain’t got no electricity
the penny dropped. (3)

the penny dropped, oh yes
there on the corner
I was about to take off
a mine exploded. (4)

A mine exploded, oh yes,
said a canary,
but I best stay here
at the spring resort.
Gosh, I sure am a lucky devil
said a plucky fellow.

 


 

Notes

(1) Frequently the groups of prisoners arriving from Chile Stadium and other detention centres throughout the country were received with insults and blows.

(2) Shortly after arriving at the camp, each prisoner would be vaccinated.

(3) The military made reference to an ‘electrified fence’ that surrounded the camp, but given that the fence touched ground all around, it was not possible to electrify it effectively.

(4) Much of the perimeter of the Chacabuco camp was mined to prevent prisoners from escaping. Mines exploded frequently, possibly triggered by stray dogs.