What is it about this song with a guy´s name and a weapon that has transcended four languages and become a classic? In Germany (and the orgininal version) it is “Die Moritat Von Mackie Messer”, in English “Mack The Knife”, “O Malandro” by Chico Buarque and in Spanish “Pedro Navaja”.
Die Moritat von Mackie Messer (Die Dreigroschenoper), Kurt Weill – Bertolt Brecht (Lotte Lenya)
The composer of the song is Kurt Weill and the lyrics were written by Bertolt Brecht. Now, I have to confess I am shocked! First, I didn’t even know the song was originally written in German, but the fact that Brecht wrote it just raised a bar. Here are some of the famous playwright´s quotes. Part of The Threepenny Opera, a play which presents a socialist critique of the capitalist word. It premiered in 1928, and by 133 it had been translated into 18 languages and had been performed all over Europe. All that was interrupted with Hitler, and the Second World War and there is a lot written about Brecht and by Brecht from exile and on exile.
Mack the Knife-Bobby Darin
“Mack the Knife” was first introduced in the United States by this Louis Armstrong version, but the Bobby Darin version. It was a Billboard Hot 100 No. hit in 1959. Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald also covered the song, along with many artists. It is considered one of the best songs ever written, was No.2 song for the year of its release and has even been in the Top 500 songs of all time by Rolling Stone. Steve Martin did a famous cover for SNL (sorry, could not find that link anywhere!) and then there is also The Muppet´s version. Tito Puente also recorded an instrumental version of the song.
“O Malandro” – Chico Buarque
Brazilian composer Chico Buarque also did a free adaptation of the song. Actually, Buarque went and wrote an opera, Ópera Do Malandro, inspired by the Threepenny Opera. The film is also a tribute to the late Paolo Pontes.
“Pedro Navajas” Ruben Blades
Panama´s own Ruben Blades, a singer, songwriter, actor, musician, activist, Minister of Tourism, Candidate for the Presidency, activist and Lawyer, holder of an LL.M in International Law from Hardvard University, wrote his most famous salsa song “Pedro Navajas” as a homage to “Mack the Knife”. He did not translate the song, he wrote a whole story around a character inspired by the thug, in which a woman and him both die at the end.
So what is the magnet behind the story? Perhaps it is the awesome lyrics by Brecht, or the catchy music, the way it can be adapted into samba and jazz, or simply the universal aspect of the subject, and how on many corners of the world, there is always that character, that gangster, and the only way many can defend against him is through art.