¡Qué viva la música!


Andrés Caicedo lived in Cali, Colombia during the ’60s and ’70s. He only finished one novel, ¡Qué viva la música!, and killed himself just as the book was coming out, when he was twenty-five. It’s not a sad story. Caicedo is one of those rare cases of someone who lived by what he believed. He loved the rumba, music, and he wanted to die dancing, not sitting in a chair, old, sad, and not able to stand up.

The book has slowly grown in fame, but Caicedo still isn’t well-known outside Colombia. There is one English translation, Live Forever, by Frank Wynne. The novel follows the story of a girl, María del Carmen Huerta, growing up, full of life, and who falls in love with music. From the Rolling Stones to Richie Ray, the book is filled with songs and the beat of life. While her friends get lost in drugs, settle down, or go to school, she keeps moving. The story is about growing up but never becoming an adult, never compromising, and loving life as much as music. She eats mushrooms, robs tourists, shoots up, is crazy in bed, and is a failure in the eyes of society. But she’s the hero, dancing through life, with good friends around.

Cali is known for it’s parties, it’s hot climate, and it’s salsa. But when Richie Ray and Bobby Cruz came there with their group in 1968, salsa was still fairly new. Caicedo wrote about it in ¡Qué viva la música!. Rubén, one of the characters, watched from the front row:

The fact he didn’t hear the chord, didn’t matter: Bobby Cruz still hadn’t taken his eyes off him – who wouldn’t have jumped at the chance? – the crowd had cleared to give him a respectable space, the breadth of the pulsing rhythm until – Jesus! – until Rubén touched wood and Bobby Cruz’s patent leather shoe. Right here where you see me. And Bobby Cruz bent down and shook his hand. This is the way I pound out the beat, this is the way I land on my feet. And before he touched the singer’s yellowish hand, Rubén managed to recover some of his composure: he felt a thin strand of calm and remembered his friends – where were they? Or did he? Maybe he didn’t have it with him, the key to the key change to the memory, the Red Bird, the second Seconal. Would that heighten his pleasure? Slowly, surely, he slid a hand into his underpants and found the pill nestling in his pubes, and under the watchful eye of Bobby Cruz who lazily watched his every move, Rubén popped the pill.

Big time salsa bands didn’t come back to Cali for a couple years after that. It might not have been banned so much as just not have been popular enough with the good citizens of the city. Like rock and roll in the north, it didn’t have the same respectability as more traditional music at the time, like sonido paisa. In solitary protest, Caicedo designed a sign that was hung up in public.

The Graduates, The Hispanics and the rest of the followers of Sonido Paisa 
Made for the bourgeois in their poor taste.
Because it’s not about “Suffering is My Lot in Life.”
It’s about “wake up, because they’re watching you.
Long live the Afro-Cuban feeling!
Long live Free Puerto Rico!

¡Qué viva la música! wasn’t written for critics, and Caicedo didn’t write it for fame. He wrote wrote it for his friends in the city where he grew up. If words were his means, they weren’t his inspiration. If you don’t know the songs though, you might miss the point.

The birds sing and in the trees (far from here, on the other side of the River), I imagine them swaying in the twilight, then I imagine every leaf making the raw sound of trumpets that is the call of the jungle that caught me in its spell. I know I’m a pioneer, a lone explorer, and that some day, in spite of myself, I’ll come up with the theory that books lie, movies exhaust, let’s burn them all and leave nothing but music. If I head that way, it’s because that’s the way we’re headed. We’re living the most important moment in the history of humanity, and this is the first time so much has been asked of its children. Looking into their faces, into the gaping mouths or the rings around their eyes – in my humble opinion, these kids, my friends, have succeeded. We are the plaintive note whimpered by the violin. They laughed at boogaloo, and just look at them now.

Lluvia Con Nieve – Mon Rivera

Lo Atara La Arache – Richie Ray and Bobby Cruz

Hay Fuego en el 23 – Arsenio Rodriguez

Chango Ta Beni – Conjunto Justi Barreto

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