I have had a copy of the album for over a decade and so I must say that (much of) the music featured in this film is quite familiar. But I had long erroneously thought that the album and the film were more closely related and so I found myself quite confused for a good chunk of the film. I thought the film was made at the same time as the initial album. But no, it was made later, which explains why I don’t know all the music.
This is a film that probably tries to do too many things. It is at once a portrait of a group of Cuban musicians making a recording (not the album I’ve heard) in Havana, the story of these musicians, the story of their very brief world tour (literally 3 dates) and how they reacted to it and a sly comment on the embargo. It does not commit to any of these things, really, and I think that the film suffers because of it. It should be a little less ambitious.
But, whether or not you are familiar with the ensemble’s music, there’s lots of enjoyable music here, played by musicians who, at least according to the movie, had almost been forgotten in Cuba before the initial album. The ensemble plays a bunch of traditional mid-century Cuban styles and the film is a sampler much like the original album. You don’t here many complete performances though, I guess you need to stick to the records for that.
I certainly feel like I might have enjoyed this more in 1999, having not yet heard the album, and not yet been exposed to this kind of music, than I did being overly familiar with the music, if only because the film feels very much like a bunch of snapshots of a much bigger story, a story I wouldn’t have known then but feel like I know enough of now that the film doesn’t really tell me anything new. (The internet is definitely partially responsible there.)
But if you are into roots music, Cuban music or Latin Jazz, there’s probably something for you here. Also, if you are at all interested in Cuba as a place, it’s certainly a rather unique portrait in that light.