BACK TO LOS ZAFIROS FILM
|Green Man Review
Review by David Kidney
“Los Zafiros – Music From The Edge of Time” provides the images
and story needed for a fully developed picture of this amazing group,
and shows just how popular the group was in Cuba.
They began in 1962 singing to the accompaniment of an acoustic guitar
played by Oscar Aguirre, but their trademark sound was cemented the
following year when Manuel Galban came on board with his unique and
sensual electric guitar, adding the twang of Duane Eddy, and a touch of
rock'n'roll to the mix. Galban (whose new duet album with Ry Cooder was
reviewed here) is one of the hosts for this filmic tour of Los Zafiros.
He still lives in Havana, with his wife of 35 years. He wanders around
the city with his guitar on his back. He visits EGREM Studios. He plays
in the local watering hole.
Miguel Cancio was a founding member of Los Zafiros. It was his
sapphire ring which inspired their name. He is the only Sapphire to have
left Cuba. He lives in Florida, where his son produced a bio-film about
his father's group in 1997. In fact, ”Los Zafiros - Music From the
Edge of Time” is the third film about Los Zafiros. A short Cuban
documentary was made in the mid-90s. Miguelito returned to Cuba in
December 2001 to participate in the current film and to reunite with
The amazing thing about the film is the number of times it touches the emotions! Several times this viewer felt tears welling in my eyes, or had to swallow the lump in my throat. The new footage is intercut with archival footage from Zafiros appearances on Cuban TV and historical newsreels to help set the frame of reference. The archival footage of performances is wonderful, but it is the new material that grabs the heartstrings. The interviews with Cuban celebrities who talk about the impact of Los Zafiros are fascinating. They speak in Spanish, with English subtitles. Nick Gold, of World Circuit Records, who aided in bringing their music to the forefront, is interviewed. Ry Cooder is represented by one photo. Perhaps most impressive is the incredible level of saturation Los Zafiros' music must have had in Cuban culture. As records are played, as the two old men continue their odyssey, everyone on camera is singing along...from old men on street corners to the kids playing in the park! They all know the words to the songs!
When Galban and Miguelito meet in EGREM to re-record two of Los Zafiros' tunes, Oscar "Cachaito" Lopez joins on bass, and a couple of percussionists beat out the rhythms. Galban's twangy guitar snakes and stings, and Miguel Cancio sings the lead that he never did before. Beautiful. They travel to Varadero, where they eat lobster, drink and sing with the brothers of their fallen comrade "Kike" Morua. While there they stand on the beach, look out at the ocean. "I live over there, in Florida," Miguelito says quietly. "I know," replies Galban. It is a powerful moment.
Galban left the group in 1972. The remaining quartet tried to soldier on before disbanding officially in 1975. Ignacio Elejalde died of a brain hemorrhage in 1983 he was 37 years old. "Kike" died in 1983 (cirrhosis of the liver) and Elio, "El Chino" Hernandez had several health problems before passing on in '95. Galban and Miguelito visit the graves of their compadres, for one last drink.
“Los Zafiros – Music From The Edge of Time” was filmed beautifully by Thomas Ackerman, the island of Cuba providing a perfect setting for the cinematographer's art. Producer/director Lorenzo DeStefano did a marvelous job in balancing the archival with the new, and the whole team has created a stunning work of art. It stands as a brilliant tribute to an extraordinary group of musicians, to an exotic and exciting country, to an era that existed on the edge of time.