Zamba so as Not to Die (Zamba para no morir)

Music piece by:
Hamlet Lima Quintana
Testimony by:
Ana María Jiménez
Experience in:
Villa Grimaldi, April 1975

I want to recall a night at Villa Grimaldi.

It was pouring with rain when they took us out to the toilets in the yard.

The guard who took us, a rather sinister and cruel woman, asked which of us was studying music. I identified myself, and she said: 'We're bored here. So you’re gonna sing something to entertain us'.

In spite of the terror I felt, I decided that my little act of rebellion would be not to sing, not to release my voice. Besides, I thought I really wasn’t able to.

'Oh, so you’re gonna make us beg you. In that case everyone will stay outside until you decide to sing, so you all take a little fresh air'.

At that moment, I wondered if it was fair to let all my comrades get soaking wet just because of my stubborn dignity. But I didn’t have to think long: among us was the journalist Gladys Díaz, a member of the MIR(Revolutionary Left Movement) Left-wing political organisation founded in 1965 at the Univ. of Concepción., who whispered:

'Sing, girl. The Yugoslav is in the towerFormer water tank in Villa Grimaldi, where brutal torture was applied. Many detained-disappeared were last seen alive there. dying. We don’t think he’ll see the day out. Your song will help him'.

And when the guard returned, without a word, I began singing “Zamba para no morir” (Zamba so as not to die), the song performed by Mercedes SosaArgentine singer-songwriter and one of the most important figures in the Nueva Canción movement..

I've never had a great voice. Just in tune. And God knows where I found the strength, but I started singing in a cracked voice:

'My voice will break the afternoon until the echo of yesterday /Little by little I am alone my at the end / Dying of thirst, tired of walking / But I continue to grow in the sun, renewed...'

At that point, the guard stopped me and told me to stop buggering around with political ditties. That I should sing a cumbiaColombian music genre and dance, with roots in European, Indigenous and African music traditions. or something by Roberto Carlos(1941-) Brazilian singer-songwriter, known as the King of Latin Music.. I went dumb.

Then they took us back to our cells, but before going in the guard said to me: 'You’re stayin’ out ‘ere, for bein’ stubborn'. I spent a good while in the yard. I was afraid, cold, but I felt I had made a minimum act of resistance and that helped me.

Later we found out that the Yugoslav had indeed died that night. Hopefully, the singing, the music with all its wonderful power, conveyed to him our strength and he was able to leave with some inner calm.

Cedomil Lausic, dear comrade, hasta siempre!

Victims remembered in this testimony:


Published on: 15 December 2014

My voice will break the afternoon
until the echo of yesterday.
I'm ending up alone in the end
dying of thirst, tired of walking
but I keep growing in the sun, I’m alive.

It was the old time, the flower
the fruitwood
then the axe began to strike
falling, just rolling
but the tree will bud, renewed.

With the light of day burning in the sky, I'm off
with the leather, in awe I’ll go
hoarse from shouting that I will return
dispersed in the air to sing, always.

My reason does not ask for mercy
It is prepared to leave.
I'm not afraid of ritual death
only sleeping, to see myself erase
a story will remind me that I’m alive.

I see the fields, fruit, honey
and this desire to love.
Forgetfulness cannot conquer me
today like yesterday, always to arrive
through one’s child we can return, renewed.