Los Angeles Times

Review by Kevin Thomas
Thursday, July 24, 2003

The Latino International film festival continues at the Egyptian Theatre with an abundance of varied and provocative fare. The festival is rich in films devoted to musicians and their music, and one of the best is Lorenzo Destafano's heart-tugging "Los Zafiros/The Sapphires - Music From the Edge of Time," which introduces us to once world-renowned singing group of the '60s sometimes described as "the Cuban Plotters" or "The Beatles of Cuba". It was composed of five young men who combined a calypso beat with the African rhythms of Cuban music, also incorporating American pop music influences. Los Zafiros had an extraordinary vocal quality and an impressive repertoire, with songs reflecting the passionate spirit of people.

But what happened to them? The film is an emotion-charged answer, although the impact of the U.S. embargo is implicit. After a flourish of vintage clips and archival images, we experience the impact of the charisma and talent of the group and its music. Then we meet, in Miami, silver-haired singer Miguel Cancio, now 65, and follow him on his return to Havana after leaving his homeland in 1992. Preparing for visit he says he feels "joy, sadness....I won't have time to understand all these feelings."

In Havana he has the reunion with the only other surviving Zafiro, the still dashing guitarist-singer Manuel Galban, currently a member of the renowned Buena Vista Social Club band. They visit old colleagues and friends, perform in bars and even return to a recording studio. In a park, they join with Los Nuevos Zafiros, founded in 1987 by the late Ellio "El Chino" Hernandez, and original Zafiro who was then still an electrifying performer. "Los Zafiros" is a beautiful, tender film that leaves us feeling that the group's music will never fade.