“Los Zafiros-MuSic From THE EDGE OF TIME”

Produced &
Directed by: Lorenzo DeStefano.

Documentary. Length: 78 mins, 2005

Meres J. Weche's rating:  ****

Los Zafiros was formed in Castro's Cuba in 1962 and quickly became Cuba's most famous musical group. They composed calypso beats infused with a proud dose of African rhythms, wrapped up in American pop music influences. Inspired by the Motown tradition and the Rock 'n Roll craze of the time, they became known as Cuba's answer to the Beatles. Perhaps ironically so -- given the political context in which the group came of age. But as the U.S.-born director Lorenzo DeStefano explained to, he purposely left out the political aspect from the film. "It's been done" he says; and those who remembered the members of Los Zafiros understood that they were first and foremost "musicians." Although only one of the quintet's members knew how to read and write music, the group's natural talent was undeniable.

DeStefano follows the last two living members of the 60's-era phenomenon into a tearful, emotional and inspiring walk through memory lane. We first encounter Miguel Cancio -- who had joined the large number of Cubans now living in Miami, Florida just nine years before the filming of the documentary. Now in his late sixties, he is tortured with the prospect of seeing his beloved Havana again. But he decides to make the pilgrimage with DeStefano -- where they meet up with the other surviving member of Los Zafiros (The Sapphires). We find a still elegant guitarist-singer Manuel Galban, currently a member of the renowned Buena Vista Social Club band, living in Havana. The reunion of the two compadres is emotional.

They wander the streets of old Havana together and remember the smells, sounds and tastes of the glory days of Los Zafiros. "We were on top of the world back then" they remember. And so they were. The film chronicles, through original clips and photos of the glory days, the memorable performance at "L'Olympia" in Paris, the crows gathering around them in Moscow's Red Square, and much more. We follow them as they go visit old friends and colleagues. One particularly poignant scene is when Miguel Cancio pays a visit to the brother of one of the group's most popular member, El Chino. El Chino's brother takes a violin and starts signing his joy but he can't finish the song. They both succumb to tears and hug each other. "Don't make a scene" Miguel tells him, "this is embarrassing."

I must say that I was greatly impressed by the now Canadian and Vancouver-based filmmaker's dedication and truly authentic portrayal of Cuba's rich musical history. "I sold my house" to complete this project he says. He further explained how he managed to get the film shot "under the wire" as he was starting production soon after the time of the 9-11 attacks. As an American citizen at the time, he struggled with the expected embargo complications and Cuba's ultimate inclusion into the "either with us or against us" terrorist state list. His dedication was rewarded during the film's premiere at the Havana Film Festival. People in the audience were in tears and had trouble believing that a non-Cuban had made this movie. “Los Zafiros - Music From The Edge Of Time” is truly a gem of a flick. A beautiful ode to the power of friendship, loyalty and love for one's cultural heritage.