So Charlize Theron has gone to Cuba, the cradle of son, the birthplace of the rumba, the current residence of one of the most kickarse forms of music today, timba (to name just three), and made a film about ... a hip-hop group.
Excuse me for a moment.
What is it with filmmakers' obsessions for documenting any musical Cuban style EXCEPT THE ONE THAT HAS DOMINATED THE HEARTS AND MINDS OF CUBANS (and some foreigners) FOR THE LAST TWENTY YEARS?
What the fuck is wrong with these people?
From the Buena Vista Social Club, to episodes of the travel shows Six Degrees and Lonely Planet to Charlize's East of Havana - all of these (and probably a good deal more) overlook timba in favour of son and hip-hop. The former is understandable (it was an innovative and extremely influential genre), if frustrating (how much more do you need to say about it?); while the latter is just baffling. For a start: it's a foreign style, being played in a country that has given birth to more unique styles of music than probably any other. Not only that, but when compared to the popularity of the music by groups such as Van Van, Paulito, Charanga Habanera etc, hip-hop is a mere blip on the sonic landscape.
Timba is exciting, breathtaking, elevating. A form so sophisticated, spirited and well-played it leaves most almost all other contemporary music for dead. Not only that: but it is also a pop music - one that is inextricably linked to, fuelled by and loved by the people. There is no other pop music in existence that has all these attributes.
And yet these people, these outsiders, go there and, what? Look no further than people who can speak their own language (hip-hoppers, who are more likely to speak English than timberos, who mostly speak only Spanish)? Need to find a music they have already heard before in order to relate to it? Only want to concentrate on a romantic version of the past (in the case of son)?
Again I say:
Fuckin' drives me nuts.
I can think of only two films that deal with timba. One is La Tropical. And actually I haven't seen it, cause the two times it screened in Sydney I had to work. I guess it's more about the dancers and the venue, but I'm assuming timba is the backdrop for it. Unless they spent all their time filming at the Sunday afternoon son sessions (jaja). [There is a clip at youtube with a soundtrack that starts with ... hip-hop, but then goes into charanga.]
The other is Jennifer Paz's Popular, which deals not only with the genre, but also the popularity and relevance of it to Cubans today. Unfortunately the band at its heart is Charanga Habanera - unfortunate for me, cause the last album of theirs I have any time for is Charanguero Mayor (2000). Those singers (that's Aned and Eblis, who has now left, on the right) give me the willies.
But I digress: good on her for going to the heart of the matter and documenting something that is actually relevant and real. [Watch a clip here.] Something that actually exists, other than in the preconceptions and pitches ("I've got this great idea, we go to Cuba, the place that gave birth to son, rumba, cha-cha-cha, mambo, conga, charanga, danzon, mozambique, timba ... and we make a movie about kids playing a form of music that came from North America") of a few foreigners.
Is timba doomed to be a genre only widely recognised once it has died? Where will the documentation be then? Apart from here and timba.com and youtube and muchoswing and Billy's site ... well thank god for all of us.
Wish I had the money, I'd make the definitive timba epic myself.