Candombe for José (Candombe para José)

Music piece by:
Roberto Ternán
Testimony by:
Amelia Negrón

We were in Pavilion 1. One of us came up with the idea, I can’t remember who. There were so many of us and we spent the day inventing and creating things!

That’s how, in June 1976, the first (and only) table football tournament for the female political prisoners of the Tres Álamos concentration camp began.

We began organising it, first the teams, the rules, the timing, how many on each side,… no one really much about the official rules. Anyway, who cared.

Then began the difficult topic of the teams’ names. So the White Doves (‘Las Palomas Blancas’), the Innocent Doves (‘Las Inocentes Palomas’), the ‘Cucurrucucú Doves' (‘Las Cucurrucucú Paloma’), and some more similar ones.

And we played the knockout games, the quarter-finals and the semi-finals. In this narrow yard surrounded by grey walls our cries of joy and support to our favourite team or a well-scored goal would explode.

Another one of us had the idea of asking for the basketball court which was between the third pavilion (called Cuatro Álamos) and the barrack. And, wonder! They allowed us to play the knockout games there. We went out. It was a nice sunny day, the sky was blue.

When we got to the court we had quite a surprise: on the exterior court, our male comrades were walking around. They looked at us, had the same shocked face as us and quickly went back into the barrack.

As we were concentrating on the teams and the knockout games we didn’t understand much to start with. So the starting whistle sounded, the defenders began, the goalkeepers, the referee, the forwards…

Then we see the guys running out with tables, benches, seats, and sitting down to see us play. They tuned charangosSmall Andean plucked string instrument traditionally made from an armadillo shell or wood., bombosLarge bass drums used in various regions in Latin America. and guitars and began singing, singing to us at the top of their voices. Over a hundred prisoners singing in unison. It was stirring.

I don’t think anyone remembers nowadays whether the White Doves or the Cucurrucucú Doves won. The poor ball was kicked anywhere, I don’t even know whether someone scored, who refereed, who was a forward, nothing about the game… But they sang the whole time, without rest.

But the most important thing: from a corner of the court, also, you could see, sideways, the windows of Cuatro Álamos and our imprisoned comrades hanging their hands and feet out as far as they could between the window bars. Those in this pavilion would either become prisoners or become part of the long lines of comrades who are detained-disappeared to this day.

Bless be sign language, a thousand times blessed! Almost all of us knew it and we could exchange names, messages, information, facts,… All this while others would kick the ball - the poor thing had done nothing wrong – and screamed, so that the cops who were looking after us would laugh and continue watching the game. They never noticed anything.

Everything comes to an end. We picked up the poor ball, got into formation, and with our hearts racing, marched back to our cells. What a beautiful day, how lucky we were, what a blue sky!

Suddenly, all the comrades in the barrack began singing at full lung:

In a forgotten village I don’t know why
And he let me see his dancing
In the village they called Negro José
Courage, Negro José.

And despite our slow walk, slow, slow, we arrived at our cells and they hadn’t yet finished the song. And they sang it, persevering, out of eyesight, until the end, at full lung.

None of us knew it entirely, but slowly and racking our brains we completed the music and lyrics. We all learnt it, without exception.

And from then on, we would sing it back and forth from one pavilion to the other during festive nights, and that is how 'Candombe para José'(3), on a Saturday in June 1976, became the hymn of the political prisoners.


Published on: 24 August 2018

In a God-forsaken town, I don't know why
His black dance makes him move
People in the town call him Negro José
My friend Negro José.

With much love Negro José dances candombe
The color of the night on his skin
He is very happy dancing candombe, lucky him
My friend Negro José.

Forgive me if I tell you, Negro José
You are a devil but also a friend, Negro José
Your future goes with mine, Negro José
I tell you because I know it.

All eyes are upon him when he dances
And the drumbeat of his eyes seems to speak
And his devilish shirt wants to leap out
My friend Negro José.

You don’t appear to have sorrows
But sorrows are plenty, Negro José
That you leave them behind when you dance, I surely know
My friend Negro José.

Forgive me if I tell you, Negro José
You are a devil but also a friend, Negro José
Your future goes with mine, Negro José
I tell you because I know it
My friend Negro José
I tell you because I know it
My friend Negro José.