Cuba Island of Music: A Music Documentary

Javier AQ Ortiz By

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Quick and to the Point: Little good, lots of bad, a bit of ugly too...

The Good: Viewers get the opportunity to see filmed snapshots of daily life in Havana. The DVD also affords the chance to see various musical groups from Cuba play their music, ranging from the venerable Orquesta Aragón to a glimpse of the new Los Zafiros. A couple of those performances can be seen as part of the bonus footage as musical presentations of their own and that’s about it...

The Bad: When they advertise this product as having a “raw and sensual” style, believe the rawness part. The sound is in situ and uneven throughout the entire DVD. It shows no mature editorial facility, inventiveness or nuanced capacity for visual and character development within a filmed documentary. Think of it as home video shot with digital cameras, poorly lighted takes, cheap microphones and no portable audio processing equipment. If there was a script for this documentary, it shows no evidence of having been written or well researched. Billy Taylor is not an authority in Latin music and it shows in his comments, performances and professional history. It would be interesting to find out why was he recruited for this project, as it seems to be beyond comprehension. There is not one insight to gain about any thematic matter from the production that hasn’t been widely available and discussed; whether it be cultural, musical, political or otherwise. True authorities in the matters at hand, both within and beyond Cuba, were not consulted. Even the comments elicited from Chico O’Farrill –whose audio is rather difficult to understand– are inconsequential in both importance and scope. Chico wasn’t the most qualified Cuban musical figure to talk about a city he left in 1948! Ofarrill, Mario Bauzá and Machito’s true importance lies in their musical home: New York, not Cuba. Roots without flowers and are nothing but dormant potential... The trio performances of Billy Taylor, in a trio setting with a female drummer and Cándido are mediocre. The Chico O’Farrill Afro-Cuban Jazz Band appears only as a passing snippet; most of the Cuban groups are filmed during their rehearsals, there are transitional passages featuring nubile Havana girls engaged in poetic-like statements that feel like sophomoric artiste devices...

The Ugly: Outright errors such as Billy Taylor asserting the clave as being 1-2-3-4-5-6, when it is either a 1-2-3 1-2 or 1-2 1-2-3 rhythmic pattern of Cuban –not African– origin as established by Fernando Ortiz in his book La clave xilofónica de la música cubana. Watching Keys thoroughly ignore a Cuban babalao, or santería priest, when accurately responding to his query about the importance of African music in this hemisphere. Keys wanted said priest to concur with his leading question that Africa was the germ for all music in Cuba and the Americas, to which the priest rightly asserted that African music was the root of Afro Cuban music. Latter, during a pedestrian conversation with Taylor about religion and music, Keys lied stating that the Cuban priest declared Africa as the mother of all music in this hemisphere. Taylor, of course, concurred. I wonder how African Andean music is? Perhaps Northern Mexican music is African too, perhaps I just don’t know anymore...The willful political naiveté shown throughout sections addressing issues such as the economic embargo and its effects, the Cuban musical educational system and the oppressive realities in the island.

This filmed travelogue should be retitled Gary Keys Hangs in Havana.

Website: www.gothamjazz.com .

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