- Los Zafiros: Music From The Edge of Time
Shout! Factory SF 18589
If nothing else, the 1960s taught us that music has an incredible power to deeply move people. Truthfully, music had been a catalyst for change and an outpouring of emotion for several centuries, but the advent of newer technologies and experimental approaches to media, chiefly FM Radio and television, enabled the music of the 1960s to reach a broader base of people. Those who previously felt disaffected could find musical acts who spoke to their hearts. Bonds were formed with artists that would last a lifetime.
But that's what happened in America. How did music affect our neighbor 90 miles to the south, the island of Cuba?
Fresh off of Fidel Castro's revolution, Cuba in the early 1960s was still ridding itself of American culture and forming its own identity. In 1962, four untrained singers from neighborhoods around Havana bucked the trend when they found they had a common interest in American doo-wop. Admiring groups like The Platters and The Moonglows, these four developed great harmonies that were visually accented by cool, shuffling dance moves. After teaming with a skilled local guitarist who would serve as their music director, they incorporated Brazilian bossa nova and their native Cuban rumba into their now unique sound. All that remained was a name, and after some thought, Los Zafiros (The Sapphires) were born. Within a short amount of time, they became international legends, touring the world in a whirlwind experience.
Los Zafiros: Music From the Edge of Time documents the rise and disintegration of this immensely popular vocal group. The film follows Miguel Cancio, who immigrated to Miami nine years ago, as he travels back to Cuba to reunite with the last living member of the group, Manuel Galb who is now a member of Buena Vista Social Club. The other three members died at relatively young ages, so the old warhorses spend much of their time walking their old streets and reminiscing about the good old days. Along the way, they encounter friends, family, and strangers, all in awe of the legacy of this group. Like any talented musician would, they use their reunion as an opportunity to sing. Each impromptu public performance gathers a crowd of adoring onlookers, and the crowd frequently erupts in both tears of joy and longing for the glory days of the 1960s.
While watching this DVD, three things immediately jump out at the viewer. One, the music Los Zafiros made was unparalleled. On the surface, their songs sound very much like Spanish-language versions of The Platters’ canon, but deeper inspection reveals the Latin musical influences that paint the charts in vivid color, providing the perfect balance to counter-tenor Ignacio Elejalde’s one-of-a-kind silky smooth vocals. Secondly, the members of Los Zafiros have a tremendous amount of pride in their Cuban heritage. At the top of their game, they were offered a virtually unlimited amount of money to defect to America, and yet they declined. Even when Cancio made his defection, it was a decision frought with peril, and his trip back to Havana had him wrestling with pangs of regret. Finally, the music of Los Zafiros has had an incredible emotional effect on the people of Cuba, an effect that cuts across generations. Nowhere is this more evident that when the second generation of Los Zafiros gather in a park to perform “Ofelia” with Cancio and Galbas scores of elderly and children sing-a-long. Moreover, the tears that well up in total strangers’ eyes when talking of the bandmembers who have passed are not all that different than the reactions Americans had when John Lennon and George Harrison passed away. These are fitting emotions for a band that was bigger in Cuba than The Beatles, and Los Zafiros certainly earned their place in history with their ability to touch the hearts of the Cuban people.