Memories of Duke director Gary Keys’s doc is an odd blend of passionate performance footage and maddeningly shallow analysis of Cuba’s music and politics. Nice moments, like a spliced series of “Guantanamera” renditions, shots of rain on Havana’s crumbling palatial buildings, and an eavesdrop on a scorching all-girl student ensemble, never advance a thesis to lend heft to the deep-caption travelogue. Keys is obviously anti-embargo, but he seems more interested in big-upping Havana’s finned classic cars than probing interviewees for insight beyond “music is the mother of rhythm.” Affable jazz pedant Dr. Billy Taylor remedially explains clave. And Keys, after marveling aloud (while driving, eyes on the camera instead of the road) that this “repressive country” has such amazing music (imagine!), observes that Cuba’s rhythms are “the most danceable in the world.” This simplistic ogling squanders the potential power of the salsa, bolero, son, merengue, and Afro-Caribbean sonic hybrids it celebrates, stalling the film at harmless, tourist-like appreciation.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on January 6, 2004