BACK TO LOS ZAFIROS FILM
The only member of Los Zafiros to emigrate from Cuba, co-founder Miguel Cancio came to Miami in the early 90’s in order to be closer to his two children who'd left Cuba 11 years before. Though he has left his homeland and cut back on musical pursuits, Cancio still proudly wears the sapphire ring that gave the group its name. Purchased from a drunken man outside CMQ Studios in 1957, it has become an indelible trademark of Los Zafiros and an important reminder of Cancio’s musical past.
miles of ocean and four decades of political tension have separated
Miguel Cancio from his homeland. His return to
Manuel Galbán and his wife Magda have been married for 35 years and still live in the same house in Havana as in the heyday of Los Zafiros. In his ten years with the group (1963-72), Galbán had a great deal to do with creating the rich, exotic arrangements that distinguished Los Zafiros from other Cuban popular music of the period. Still active on the Cuban and international music scene through his work with Ibrahim Ferrer and the Buena Vista Social Club, Galban admits that his years with Los Zafiros were the most satisfying of his long career.
Cayo Hueso’s neighborhood links to Los Zafiros have not faded over time. The group remains as popular today as in their prime. “People on the street” interviews in Cayo Hueso conducted by famed Cuban actress Mirtha Ibarra feature people’s memories of the neighborhood’s most famous native sons. Cancio and Galbán join the Havana tribute group Los Nuevos Zafiros for an impromptu outdoor concert in Parque Trillo, a traditional gathering place for Los Zafiros and for all Cayo Hueso residents.
A crowd of locals ranging in age from eight to eighty gathers and sings along to the wildly popular Los Zafiros tune, “OFELIA”. They know all of the lyrics and the exact intonations. It is a very telling moment, this crossing of generations through music. For Galbán and Cancio, the sight of their old neighbors singing one of their hits is emotionally complex and satisfying.
In mid-December 2001 Nick Gold of London’s World Circuit Records arranged a special recording session for the film at Havana’s famed Egrem Studios, where Los Zafiros produced many of their hits. Along with longtime collaborators Orlando “Cachaito” Lopez, Roberto Garcia and Bernardo “Chori” Garcia, Cancio and Galban recorded a rousing version of Galban’s composition “OYE NICOLA” as well as “MIS SENTIMIENTOS”, a touching tribute to fallen Zafiros El Chino, whose pristine vocals made the song such a memorable part of the group’s original repertoire. This session plays a central role in the film and marks the first time that Galbán and Cancio have recorded together in over thirty years.
When the opportunity presented itself in 1965 to tour abroad with a group of Cuban performers known as The Grand Music Hall of Cuba, Los Zafiros were ready. They appeared in Eastern Bloc cities such as Moscow, Warsaw and East Berlin, though it was in Paris, at the legendary Olympia Theatre, that the five young men from Cuba really made their mark. While their international following continued to grow, escalating political tensions prevented them from gaining recognition in the United States. Los Zafiros returned to Cuba at the peak of their success, though problems had already begun to appear between the members.
As the popularity of the group increased, Galbán’s role expanded well beyond the music. A firm hand was needed to guide the talents and temperaments of these passionate young men. A fight between Kike and Chino one night at the Oasis Hotel completely destroyed a hotel room. Stories of their misbehavior became almost as much a part of their appeal as the incredible sounds they produced. Going without food or sleep for days at a time, Kike, Ignacio and El Chino often hit the bars as soon their doors were opened. They were killing themselves and there was nothing anybody could do about it.
With hit records rolling out of Havana’s EGREM Studios, the growing excesses of Los Zafiros’ were forgiven though not completely forgotten. Foreign promoters, afraid of the group’s increasingly disruptive reputation, eventually began canceling many overseas tours.
Within Cuba, their notorious activities and the changing musical tastes caused the quintet to drift out of political and professional favor. Frustrated by the unprofessional conditions and declining interest in the band among Cuban fans and international promoters, Galbán left the group in 1972. After his departure, the remaining members tried singing with an orchestra and made a few recordings but the results were not as before.
Los Zafiros spiraled downward until officially disbanding in the mid-70's. Ignacio died in 1981 at 37 from complications of several heart attacks. Kike died at the same age in 1982 from cirrhosis of the liver. El Chino, beset by severe vision, speech and drinking problems, lived alone back in Cayo Hueso until his death on August 8, 1995 at age 56.
During an emotional visit in El Chino’s old house, Cancio and El Chino’s brother, Jorge Hernandez “Pupi” Mora, look over photographs from El Chino’s wedding to Cancio’s sister. The links between these families was obviously not just musical. “Every time I ask Galbán about someone, he tells me, ‘He’s dead.’ I’m afraid to ask him any more, because I’m afraid I may be next.” Galban and Cancio think about their three vanished friends all the time. Galban once reflected for a journalist, “I hated seeing them the way they were at the end. I think about them, the things they said and did. They never grew up. They were always just kids. But they had good hearts. They were born to sing. They just didn’t know how to live.”
Ultimately it is the group’s music and not their demise that carries on their legacy. In linking the disparate strands of Cuban musical and political history, “LOS ZAFIROS-MUSIC FROM THE EDGE OF TIME” presents a vivid, moving and balanced portrait of the remarkable success story that was Los Zafiros.