The Cuban Music You Haven't Heard: 'Forbidden Shore' at Havana Film
Festival New York
by SANDRA GUZMAN
If there is one film that can serve as a metaphor for how little the
world knows about Cuba, Latin America, and the rest of the region, it's
"The Forbidden Shore," a marvelous documentary that introduces the world
to forty Cuban artists.
It's one of thirty-seven films being shown at the Havana Film Festival
New York, the longest running festival featuring the work of Cuban and
Latin American filmmakers, now in its 18th year.
The film's director, Canadian-born Ron Chapman, said that when he first
visited Cuba eight years ago, "I was overwhelmed at what I didn't know.
I was amazed at the diversity of its music and how very little Cuban
music is known or played internationally other than The Buena Vista
The same could be said of the rest of the region, but that has been
changing, partly due to the work of today's Latino and Latina
filmmakers, as evidenced in this festival.
"We wanted to show a snapshot of the work that is being produced today,"
said Diana Vargas, the festival's artistic director for the past
"Cinema coming out of the area is fresh and innovative and artists of
the region are eager to tell stories that correct many misconceptions of
Latin America," Vargas said.
This year the festival is paying tribute to two film masters: Cuba's
Juan Padrón, whose iconic Vampiros en la Habana (Vampires in Havana) is
a hilariously funny animation classic that was produced decades before
"Twilight," as well as the work of the late Argentine Eliseo Subiela,
whose brilliant film, El Lado Oscuro del Corazón (The Dark Side of the
Heart), paved the way for Argentina's film boom.
In addition, twenty directors are traveling to New York to participate
in talkbacks during the nine-day festival.
We spoke to The Forbidden Shore's Ron Chapman about his film, which
closes the festival on April 7.
What inspired you to make this film?
I am a Canadian and we have an open relationship with Cuba that
continued uninterrupted through and after the revolution in 1959, in
spite of considerable pressure from the United States to join the
embargo; more Canadian tourists visit Cuba every year than from any
other destination in the world.
In Cuba I learned about rumba to rap and everything in-between. I wanted
to make a film that would be able to cross borders and restrictions
imposed by the difficulty of travel and restrictions imposed by the US
I made a film that helps to overcome some of the myths about Cuba and
the Cuban people that showcases their great diversity of musical talent
and shares with the unique creative collaborative relationship the
artists have with each other and their unusual and very pure passion for
art. [It's] the creative process that is uniquely not affected or
informed by the necessity of creating for an international market or any
market that requires making music or art for profit. I stopped shooting
this film on the day Obama said publicly in his famous speech that it
was time to end the embargo.
What is unique about Cuban music?
Cuban music's main influences come from Africa and Europe, mostly Spain,
so it is based on an interesting mix. Up until the Cuban Revolution,
Cuban music and artists traveled freely throughout the world, and there
was a connection and dialogue between artists of the world.
After the Cuban Revolution, there was no longer the same ability for
Cuban artists to travel, meet, play and be influenced by contact with
foreign artists. Also, all multinational record companies connected with
the U.S. could not sign an artist from the island because of the
embargo, making it difficult to export the art form.
As a result, the island developed a musical community and identity that
was not based on appealing to the tastes of the international community.
The music was created really solely for the Cuban population; it is much
more insular and a reflection of the Cuban people, their culture,
society politics and life.
This music is beyond the Buena Vista Social Club. What are some of the
lesser known genres and artists that you want the world to meet?
My working title for the film for years was "This Ain't the Buena Vista
Social Club." The world knows their music, and they are great musicians
and there are some Cuban groups living on the island that have
followings in some countries around the world, especially in
Spanish-speaking countries, like Los Van Van, or Chucho Valdez.
But it's fair to say that most of the artists in the film, which have
some of the greatest artists and talents in Cuba, are not well known in
I included forty artists in my film, and I still had to leave artists
and music on the cutting room floor, not because they were not as good,
or as talented, only because of the time limitations.
Even some of the greatest artists in Cuba now are unknown to the world,
such as X Alfonso, Haydee Milanés, Kelvis Ochoa, Roberto Fonseca, Aldo
López Galvan and Harold López Nusa, Telmary, Charanga Habanera, Danay
Suarez, Roberto Podermo, Djoy de Cuba and Polito Ibáñez.
There are so many artists, and so many different genres which is why I
found it necessary to "take a snapshot" of the music of Cuba today, and
present the incredible diversity of artists that are creating on the
island and make this film to share this music with the world.
You mentioned that there are 33 unique musical genres in Cuba. Why do
you think this island has given birth to such distinct music?
Part of why the island has given birth to so much distinct music has
been the isolation. Cuba, the country, has been very much like a petri
dish, everyone influencing each other, but not really having the
opportunity to go outside the country and mingle with other artists.
They could for the most part only interact with artists who came to Cuba
for short periods of time, and also, whatever music made it into the
country that they could find.
There were no radio stations from outside the country available, or
television stations, newspapers or magazines or Internet connection
available to the majority of the population. It was a matter of what
came in, what they found some exposure to, and then they would take
elements from these musical styles and integrate aspects of them into
their core music, so their music would grow, expand, but always be
anchored by its Cuban roots.
What is your hope with this film?
I wanted to educate the public. I realized how little the people of the
world, and, in the case of this New York premiere, how little the people
of the United States actually know or understand about the music of
Cuba, the people of Cuba, their artistic process, the effects of the
embargo (good and bad) and how they then overcame or worked around these
I was greatly moved by some of the things that impacted their careers,
lives and creative output, in a good way, and as well, in a bad way. All
these contribute to the creative spirit, soul and the creative outcome
Hopefully, this film will encourage viewers to search them out and find
their music, and introduce audiences to new styles of music, to
encourage them to visit Cuba, to know Cuba better through their music,
and in the case of the U.S. to better understand the effects of the
embargo on the population, on the people of Cuba, and to encourage them
to actively encourage their leaders to end this political situation and
stalemate that has caused so much damage to the people of Cuba in so
many ways, and kept the people of the U.S. from knowing or having any
real relationship or understanding of the people or the country.
The New York Havana Film Festival runs from March 30th thru April 7th.
For a full calendar check out www.HFFny.com
Source: The Cuban Music You Haven't Heard: 'Forbidden Shore' at Havana
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