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Prohibited pop

Fidel is all-powerful. For arriving late for a meeting with him you can spend two weeks locked up under guard, in a shack in the sticks

The latest pearl fished out from the sea of writings left by Guillermo Cabrera Infante is Mapa dibujado por un espía (Map drawn by a spy), which is about 1965, a time of muted tension in Cuba. GCI thought that, living in Brussels as Cuban cultural attaché, he would be remote from the internal struggles of the Revolution. Until he and his wife went back to Cuba for her mother's burial.

About to board the plane back to Europe, they are ordered to remain on the island. Then follows a nightmare: four months stuck in Havana, fearing some sudden blow from the regime, which suspects him of dissidence, though in public he is prudent. Long enough to appreciate the general poverty, the run-down streets, the boom in prostitution, the fear in artistic and intellectual circles.

Guillermo knows that time is running short: his brother Sabá, posted in Madrid, is about to request political asylum. And a reason appears for staying: among abundant affairs, he becomes enamored of a girl called Silvia. Yet (sign of the times) he fears she may be an agent of Barbarroja, the secret service chief.

Mapa is an unfinished text. It was never worked up with an eye to publication, which has probably kept it free of intercalations of personal abuse against former friends who sucked up to the regime. Some names have been changed, or left blank. Cabera Infante was not a rat. What we see is the day to day, the petty frustrations.

Castro does give the green light to Spanish pop, which attains immense popularity thanks to Nocturno, a show on Radio Progreso

We see Nicolás Guillén - indignant because Castro, in a speech at the university, has called him a "windbag" - declare his preference for the novels of Alejo Carpentier. Better not talk back: Fidel is all-powerful. For arriving late for a meeting with him you can spend two weeks locked up under guard, in a shack in the sticks.

Cabrera Infante discovers new lows: the recruit who, in his military service, is hassled when it is found that he listens to pop music. This music is expressly prohibited in public, and tuning in to it in private is a black mark. For the regime, pop music in English is ideological contamination.

Castro does give the green light to Spanish pop, which attains immense popularity thanks to Nocturno, a show on Radio Progreso. Pouring into the Cuban airwaves are Los Brincos, Juan & Junior, Los Mustang, Los Bravos, Fórmula V and Los Diablos (until quite recently, some of these groups regularly appeared in Miami, in memory-lane performances for Cuban exiles).

Fidel and his regime are also down on jazz. Preparing to flee, Guillermo begins selling off his collection. Happily, he turns down a tempting invitation to meet the purchaser to view his ample collection. That very night, the police come along and find the jazz fan smoking marijuana (his wife had called them). Four years in jail.

GCI realizes he would do well to cut his hair. On young people, esthetic dissidence is a sign of ideological disaffection, a one-way ticket to forced labor on the brutal UMAP (Military Units to Aid Production). The revolution has developed a strident sort of machismo-Leninism, which bears down hard on "mariconería" (fairydom). This is the particular concern of Lacras Sociales, a police unit bent on hunting homosexuals.

Also in disgrace is newer Cuban music. Los Zafiros get a very narrow pass, but Pello El Afrokán, who "makes a hellish noise without ever organizing it into music," fails. His best experience is at a meeting with the composer Harold Gramatges, where Ela O'Farrill and Frank Emilio sing "songs of the feeling epoch; except the anthems, there was not a single revolutionary song that was worth the trouble."

In the end, these months of purgatory are identified with jazz. That of Dave Brubeck, which accompanies the amorous sessions with Silvia. And the LP Lady in Satin, by Billie Holiday, also a favorite with Silvia. But the records are lost: left in a taxi, on the way to a party. A warning from Ellegua: it's time to leave.

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