Havana Blues

Issue section: 
(322)

Directors Alberto Yoel, Roberto Sanmartin, Yailene Sierra and Benito Zambrano; Release date: out now

A band gets together to record a demo. The studio is a small, cramped flat. While the drummer beats his rhythm alone, the bongos are banged in the kitchen and the guitars strummed around the coffee table. A fan cools a computer and Granny sings her moody vocals lubricated with a glass of rum. This opening scene is fast paced, cutting between scenes of the recording and the band members in the streets of Havana, with their upbeat pop rock providing the soundtrack.

As a Spanish production team arrives, dreams of success infect the musicians. A wonderful sequence displays the variety of music in Havana as the musicians take the producers to hear garage, rap and a fabulous death metal band who sing about Cuban rebellion. Comparisons between this film and Buena Vista Social Club are inevitable but inaccurate when one group sings "We black people got together and decided no more rumba." The music is subversive, anarchistic and fiercely local.

The production team wants to promote these "unknowns" in the US. But the contract will involve a number of hard decisions to be made: to leave the town they love, to lose editorial control and to include criticism of Cuba in their music. This last constraint has huge consequences as it will probably mean that the musicians will not be allowed back: "Leaving isn't the same if it's for good."

This is a slight plot but big chunks of bright and breezy music stop the film dragging.

Superbly edited with a cracking soundtrack, this is a love letter to Havana, live music and enduring friendship.