'7 Days in Havana', the soundtrack
The film 7 Days in Havana is the work of seven directors, each presenting their vision of a day — or, as is more often the case, a night in the life of Cuba's capital. As you might expect, music plays a big part in the film. You might even say music plays the best part in the film.
One of the best musical moments in 7 Days happens in the "Jam Session" segment directed by Pablo Trapero. Playing, with no apparent exaggeration, a shambling version of himself, Emir Kusturica drunkenly and annoyingly implores his driver, played by Alexander Abreu, to take him somewhere interesting. The pair ends up at a descarga — an after-hours jam session — somewhere in the city. Then, when Abreu pulls out his trumpet, the movie pulls you into the frame and you're right there in Havana with him. He plays a tune listed on the soundtrack as "Razones de sobra." When he gets to his solo, you understand why Alexander Abreu is recognised as the finest trumpet player in Cuba and quite probably the finest anywhere.
The 7 Days soundtrack was a Cuban-Spanish effort. That is, most of the songs are credited either to Xavi Turull, who is Spanish, or to Kelvis Ochoa and Descemer Bueno, who are both Cuban.
Turull is a producer and percussionist known for his work with Ojos de Brujo, a popular flamenco hip hop (his own description) band from Barcelona.
Kelvis Ochoa is Cuba’s most famous red-headed trovador. Watch 7 Days closely and you'll catch a glimpse of him singing in a bar in “El Yuma”, the film’s first sequence. The song he sings, the plaintive "A ella le duele", serves as a recurring and powerful theme throughout 7 Days. But Kelvis Ochoa singing in a half-empty bar? In Havana? Hard to imagine, but then again, this is fiction.
As anyone in Havana can tell you, Kelvis Ochoa was one of the original members of Habana Abierta, a collective of Cuban musicians who became wildly popular when they toured Spain in the late 1990s. When Kelvis made his triumphant return to Havana, his first solo album, Kelvis (2001), was produced by Descemer Bueno. The two of them worked together on the soundtrack for the movie Havana Blues (2006) and put out an album together in 2009 (Amor y música).
Descemer Bueno is probably most widely known outside Cuba for producing Euphoria by Enrique Iglesias, an album that won seven Latin Grammy awards in 2011 alone. Within Cuba, Descemer belongs to the new generation of composers who tend to get lumped into the "fusion" category. They're an eclectic bunch known for mixing traditional Cuban styles (son, boleros, Afro-Cuban jazz…) with virtually everything else (hip hop, reggae, rock…). Just about the only thing not on their playlist is reggaetón, the inescapably popular dance music blaring out of taxis and around nightclubs from San Juan to Mexicali.
It would be hard to go a full seven days in Havana without hearing any reggaetón (or Cubatón, as the local variant is sometimes called), so, appropriately, the 7 Days soundtrack gives us a taste of reggaetón, during the steamy dance sequence filmed by Gaspar Noé for his "Ritual" segment. Despite the implausibility of the scene – Cuban school kids wearing their uniforms and carrying book bags, writhing on a dance floor when they should be studying – the pumping beat of "Dile a tu mamá" from Vatos Locos somehow makes it believable.
The 7 Days soundtrack steps back in time with two tracks credited to Ignacio Jacinto Villa, more popularly known as Bola de Nieve, Cuba’s flamboyant 1930s crooner. "¡Ay, amor!" and "No dejes que te olvide" receive new arrangements from Kelvis Ochoa and Descemer Bueno, and they’re sung by Melvis Santa Estévez, who also stars in the film’s “Tentación de Cecilia” segment.
If you’re someone who has never spent a week in Havana, the first cut on the 7 Days soundtrack is likely to put you in the mood to go there – but it may also put you off the idea of practising your salsa moves on a Cuban dance floor. Built on a complex timba rhythm, the song is called La rumba no se aprende a tocar en 7 días, and you can consider that fair warning. It takes a lot more than seven days to master the rumba.
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