Spanish Cinema - Habana Blues
I’ve never forgotten something the lead singer of Las Orishas said in an interview I read some years ago. Las Orishas are the successful face of contemporary Cuban street music. They didn’t play salsa for the tourists: they rapped about their problems for the other kids around them. “When we started out”, said the guy, “we copied the American rap bands. We sang about gangsters, street-shootings and bank heists. Then we realised the falsity of it all. There were no gangsters, shootings and bank heists in Cuba. So we started singing about our real problems instead”. Namely electricity shortages, ‘jinetera’-style prostitution, and the paucity of rations.
Las Orishas got noticed, made it big, and eventually escaped the country. ‘Habana Blues’ (a Spanish-made film by director Benito Zambrano) is about another Havana rap band concerned with the content of their lyrics. The two leaders of the band, after years of underground gigging, finally start being noticed by a Spanish record company. But, they realise, in order to get a record deal they will need to change the content of their lyrics so that they become more antagonistic to the regime they live under. The conflict between the two singers as to which direction to move in is the motor that drives the film through the characteristic streets of the Cuban capital. A film all about musical differences then? And more besides. Capitalism meets Caribbean communism, globalisation meets patriotism, aspiration meets fidelity. Great soundtrack, too. DL