Jukebox City

Daisy Valera

HAVANA TIMES, Jan 16 — The city of Sancti Spiritus doesn’t smell bad. There’s no garbage set out along the streets or perpetual mounds rubble or the suffocating odor of diesel.

Instead, when the sun sets, the city’s gardens give it the fragrance of night-blooming jasmine.

It’s a good break from Havana, noise, rushing and stench.

While I was walking through the streets of my other city, rediscovering it, I stopped in the courtyard of an old mansion that is now the office of UNEAC (the Writers and Artists Association of Cuba).

UNEAC in Sancti Spiritus has just over 100 members.

The “Night of the Victrola” had just begun.

It was an evening of music, storytelling, 5-peso glasses of piña colada and cans of La Palma beer for 10 pesos each (about $.50 USD).

Fortunately for the people of the province, recreation and rum aren’t as expensive here as they are in Havana.

A green jukebox lies in the corner of the bar thanks to the magic of the mechanic Armando Miranda.

To look at it is to see one survivor from among the estimated 20,000 that existed on the island back in 1959.

Sancti Spiritus was the last city that jukeboxes reached in Cuba.

They say that the musicians in town sabotaged the devices, worried about the possibility of losing their jobs in the local bars.

They would slip shale or other items into the coin slot to jam the mechanism; or they’d directly set the machines on fire, making these appear to be accidents.

The victrolas finally won, and by 1959 the city had more than 200.

Over time these turntables became important allies to many performers, who saw in them the means of better disseminating their work.

After being replaced by new technologies, victrolas were transferred to social circles formed in different rural areas.

While enjoying the music of the doo-whop singing group Los Zafiros and the impressive voice of Benny More, I discovered how this green jukebox made it to this bar.

The ministry of Culture hadn’t put a single dime into it, nor did those in charge of cultural activities for the province.

In Sancti Spiritus, it’s apparently easier to build a store that sells products in hard currency than it is to fix the air conditioning in the city’s only cinema.

The jukebox livened up the night thanks to the 4,700 pesos that came out of the pocket of the artist Senel Paz, from Cabaiguan, a municipality in Sancti Spiritus.

So I’m left with the question: Where’s the money allocated for cultural development in Sancti Spiritus?



Daisy Valera

Daisy Valera:Soil scientist and blogger. I write from Mexico City, where Havana sometimes becomes so small that it disappears. However in others, the Cuban capital is a city so past and present that it steals your breath.

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