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Near the beginning of Andrés Caicedo’s novel ¡Que viva La música! (“Let Music Live!”) his first-person narrator, a teenage party girl, says, “I would like for the esteemed reader to follow along at my speed, which is energetic.” Energetic? That’s quite an understatement. Caicedo’s novel, first published in 1977, proceeds at a vertigo-inducing pace. The protagonist, María del Carmen Huerta, might be described as a countercultural, Spanish-speaking version of Dante’s Beatrice. She pulls the reader along as she plunges into the many-tiered nightlife of Cali, Colombia. It is a hard-partying 1970s landscape marked by the requisite proportions of sex, drugs and, rock and roll (Rolling Stones and The Cream especially). But early in her nocturnal wanderings, María del Carmen discovers salsa music, and that’s when the book accelerates to an even quicker tempo. The salsa genre was enjoying a heyday in the mid-1970s thanks to a generation of groundbreaking musicians like Richie Ray, Bobby Cruz, and Willie Colón, all whom played on and off for legendary New York-based multinational salsa collective, Fania. Cali, as Latin music buffs may know, emerged as a key hub of hemispheric salsa-mania. In fact, Cali invented its own method of listening to salsa. Albums meant to be listened at the standard 33 1/3 rotations per minute were instead played at 45 RPMs. As Caicedo writes in the novel: “The 33 transformed into a 45 is like being flagellated while one dances, it’s a need to say it all, so that there’s time to say it again 16 more times, to see who can withstand it, who can dance to it. It’s taking the lid off the spirit, the voice . . .” Caicedo, unfortunately, also lived a rock star’s trajectory. He took his own life in 1977, at age 25, the same day he received his first copy of ¡Que viva la música! in the mail. The novel, the only one Caicedo finished, has long been a cult classic in Colombia. But all of Caicedo’s writings, which include short stories and memoir, have been the subject of renewed interest throughout Latin America. Last year, prominent Chilean novelist Alberto Fuguet edited and compiled some of Caicedo’s nonfiction writings and published them as an autobiographical tome titled Mi cuerpo es una celda (“My Body Is a Cell”). It’s hard to imagine ¡Que viva la música! remaining untranslated for very long, if rights haven’t already been purchased. The precocious Caicedo might even be read as a precursor to Roberto Bolaño, so popular now among English-language readers. The two writers have much in common. Both were products of the 1970s and of the intermingled countercultural and avant-garde movements flourishing then in Latin America (at least in places and times where the intensity of government persecution didn’t limit self-expression). María del Carmen, the charming, if self-destructive, protagonist of ¡Que viva la música! might be compared to Auxilio Lacouture, the beguiling Uruguayan poetess who narrates Bolaño’s minor classic Amulet, set in late 1960s and 1970s Mexico.
Marcelo Ballvé has written for various publications, including Mother Jones, the Los Angeles Times, and Alternet, and has been featured as a commentator on National Public Radio.
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