Megan gives high praise to the music documentary exploring the cultural nuance the genre-blurring Cuban band Los Zafiros brought to the musical landscape of the 1960s and 70s.
Los Zafiros: Music From The Edge of Time is a documentary film exploring the impact of Cuban group Los Zafiros (The Sapphires) on Havana and their perpetual connection with the culture. The film’s director Lorenzo DeStefano investigates this transcendence through history, with: the help of those with connections to the group; interviews with fans, relatives and fellow friends and musicians; as well as archival footage, to truly understand their prominence in Cuban culture; both in the 1960s and to this day.
The group was formed in 1962 in Trillo Park, Havana, by Miguel Cancio, who then met Manuel Galban, after which they decided to put a group together. Soon, they were joined by three others: Ignacio Elejalde, Leoncio "Kike" Morua, and Eduardo "El Chino" Hernandez.
I almost felt embarrassed that Los Zafiros were a group I knew very little about, especially after seeing the emotional reactions of so many of their fans and the music itself that celebrates, and is so celebrated in, Cuba. The group were inspired by the American sound of doo-wop and rock and roll, which was surprising in a time where the influence was being moved away from the continent, during a time of instability in Cuba as the embargo on trade with the US was escalated. However, the celebration of Havana was always at the forefront and Los Zafiros were presented as planetary artists made to represent the sound of Cuba and the variety of Cuban rhythms. It was a fresh new sound that young Cubans wanted from The Beatles, but could relate to from Los Zafiros.
It was El Chino, the countertenor in the group, who made their sound unique. Singing the rhythmic songs and the calypso, his sultry voice garnered attraction from young fans, in the same way The Beatles made people swoon the world over (the film draws on many parallels between the two; despite the two groups never meeting). Kike came from a family of devoted singers, as the film shows his siblings discussing his upbringing, and lived to share this passion. Ignacio had the vocal range and ability that was often described as falsetto, although Manuel explains that his natural voice was a countertenor. It was instead Miguel who had the falsetto tone to complete the group.
An unforgettable moment in the film takes place when Manuel and Miguel, upon reuniting, look out over the Atlantic Ocean to Florida, where Miguel is reminded of where he lives in Miami. After such an emotional reunion, with both Manuel and his memories, I can only imagine that to Miguel the distance between the two coasts has never felt further.
The emotional undercurrent throughout the film is epitomised during discussions of the group’s demise, less than ten years after their formation. Elejalde and Morua died in the early 80s, and El Chino, passed away in 1995, after struggling with alcoholism for many years.
After a tragic end to the reign of Los Zafiros, a resurrection of the music was brought about, through Los Nuevos Zafiros, founded in 1987 by Eduardo Hernández (El Chino), a tribute group who revived the memories into a reality, reuniting fans young and old. My favourite moment in the film is a beautiful scene in which the group, alongside two of the original Zafiros, Miguel and Manuel, perform a rendition of their song Ofelia, Un Nombre de Mujer (even alongside the composer of the song, Guillermo Belén Pacheco, who explains that the song was written about his own mother who also makes an appearance). The crowd is made up of older people, as well as girls who seem to be around seven years old, singing each lyric proudly, in memory of such a significant moment in Cuban history. Although the film delivered an excellent portrayal of the effect of the music on the Cuban people, the emotion in the faces of those singing displayed just how much of Havana was alive and present in the songs they sang. Since watching the film I love to listen to Hermosa Habana and feel a connection to somewhere I have never been.
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