East of Havana
Directed by Jauretsi Saizarbitoria and Emilia Menocal
Sony BMG, opens February 2
"I've had a tough life," says Magyori, a female musician and rapper featured in East of Havana, a vital look at Cuba's tenaciously grassroots hip-hop scene. "And my music, my lyrics, my friends, my personality: They're all tough." Co-directors Jauretsi Saizarbitoria and Emilia Menocal were both born of Cuban parents but raised in the United States; both share the desire to connect with the mythology and mystery gilding that toughness (often referred to as "Cubaneo," meaning the struggle of Cuban life), as well as a curiosity about a rare sociocultural movement flourishing on Castro's watch. Following Magyori and fellow rappers as they prepare for an international hip-hop festival taking place in Havana in 2004, East of Havana sets their individual stories against the bitter, resilient landscape of Cuba's political history. For the youth in the film, music doesn't just have a purpose, it is a purpose, and the artists find in hip-hop a "mental freedom," a lyrical and ideological purity that recalls American hip-hop before it crusted over with diamonds and demagogues.