Okayplayer Films Presents: Quest For Cuba!

Questlove in Cuba

A Mini-Documentary Following Questlove
As He Brings The Funk To Havana, Cuba

Questlove‘s recent goodwill trip to Cuba has become a full mini travel documentary, courtesy of Okayplayer Films. The outlet recently shared a photo essay of the trip showing that The Roots’ drummer and Tonight Show bandleader made good use of his time in Havana, engaging in extensive cultural research both by digging up some classic Cuban-made vinyl and by visiting the legendary EGREM studios, where most–if not all–of those classic sessions were recorded. Cultural exchange is a two-way street of course–in this case a narrow two-way street full of classic cars and beautiful people and lined by palm trees on one side and the waters of the Caribbean on the other. In that spirit, Questlove also showed a cross section of party-goers how he gets down, delivering two nights of DJ goodwill at Fabrica de Arte Cubano. But as you’ll witness in the short film, there’s much more to the story, including a brief cameo from Cuban Salsa group Azucar Negra’s dance crew and a chance reunion between Questlove and Cuban hip-hop artist Brebaje Man, who opened for The Roots when they played Havana in 2002. That meeting led to a spontaneous freestyle and beatbox duet that is also one of the documentary’s most hilarious moments thanks to one very vocal underaged music critic (just watch until the end!)

Questlove in Cuba

These are the kinds of things, of course–incredible DJ sets, rare vinyl, deep studio history, unplanned street concerts–that most of us get excited about every day. But we can’t escape the feeling that this particular weekend of incredible DJ sets and music discovery has a greater sense of emotion and history attached to it, coming just days after President Obama’s meeting with Raul Castro at the Summit of The Americas in Panama. Rather than further recap what you’ll see in the mini-doc, here’s a bit of the background you need to know in order to understand just how momentous what you’re seeing on the screen truly is:

EGREM is the studio where The Buena Vista Social Club recorded their albums, not to mention numerous other legendary Cuban bands including  (famous stateside artists such as Nat King Cole also recorded there). Due to the Embargo, American artists have been forbidden to records albums with Cuban artists since 1959. Most forms of collaboration on the island violate America’s Trading with the Enemy Act, thereby resulting in large fines for Americans. To make the math simpler and more stark: these laws have effectively prohibited collaboration between Cuban and U.S. artists for 55 years–laws that Obama and Castro have at least begun the groundwork to roll back, promising to open a whole new era in U.S.-Cuba relations.

Questlove in Cuba

Questlove & Edgaro Productor’n’Jefe dig for records on International Record Store Day in Havana Cuba photos by Daniel Petruzzi

After the Cuban Revolution in 1959, all Cuban culture, including the record industry, was nationalized. This means Fidel Castro shut down Panart studios in 1961 (originally founded by Cuban owner Ramon Sabat in 1944). Between 1962-64, it was renamed The Imprenta Nacional de Cuba and acted as the only legal label in Cuba. In 1964, it was re-named EGREM, absorbing the assets of Panart.

By the 1990s, young Cubans were creating illegal antennas improvised out of material at hand such as wire hangers and Coke cans, mostly on the roofs of homes in Alamar, which happens to be the birthplace of hip-hop in Cuba. In spite of the embargo, American hip-hop, soul and rock continued to seep into the country through these guerilla antennas, spawning a mixed tape market in the process.

Against this backdrop, Questlove’s trip to Havana as an unofficial ambassador of stateside hip-hop looms large, a welcome chance for music heads to exchange ideas and is hopefully a sign of great things yet to come. With all that in mind, we present: Quest For Cuba! courtesy of Okayplayer Films (with much respect due to Productor n Jefe for the use of his music throughout, as well as his invaluable knowledge).

Finding Fela Documentary Available On DVD and Blu Ray

Finding Fela DVD

Finding Fela tells the story of Fela Anikulapo Kuti’s life, his music, his social and political importance. He created a new musical movement, Afrobeat, using that forum to express his revolutionary political opinions against the dictatorial Nigerian government of the 1970s and 1980s. His influence helped bring a change towards democracy in Nigeria and promoted Pan Africanist politics to the world. The power and potency of Fela’s message is completely current today and is expressed in the political movements of oppressed people, embracing Fela’s music and message in their struggle for freedom. Finding Fela was directed by the Academy Award winning director, Alex Gibney.

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*DVD and Blu Ray formats available online at Amazon and Target

 

Blue Note – A Story Of Modern Jazz Documentary [Full Length]

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Blue Note – A Story Of Modern Jazz is one of my favorite documentaries. I remember getting this documentary on VHS as part of a “free with purchase” promotion at Borders Books & Music.  It was circa 1997 and when I had purchased a Blue Note CD the VHS was a freebie. I was mainly after Horace Silver’s Song For My Father on CD. At the time of purchase I had no idea that I was taking home what turned out to be this priceless documentary about the history of one of the greatest jazz record labels in the world, Blue Note Records.

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Everything about this documentary fascinated me.  I fell more and more in love with the music, the artists, the cover art and the history of the label every time I watched it. The archival footage is just amazing.  Another piece to the fascinating Blue Note story is the Blue Note cover art.  The cover art is just as famous as the music and it has it’s own history.  This wonderful documentary has since been released on DVD and I have yet to replace my trusty dusty VHS even though it’s worth every penny and should be added to any serious jazz documentary collection.  But in the meantime we can all enjoy this full length youtube stream.

Stevie Wonder – The Making Of Songs In The Key Of Life – Documentary [Full Length]

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Always nice to revisit this fantastic 1997 Stevie Wonder documentary that takes a look back at the making of Songs In The Key Of Life, one of the greatest albums in popular music history.  Released in 1976,  Songs in the Key of Life became among the best-selling and most critically acclaimed albums of Stevie’s career. The full length documentary below features Stevie Wonder, Herbie Hancock, Quincy Jones, Berry Gordy, Dorothy Ashby and more.

Twenty Feet From Stardom – The Unsung Heroes Behind The Greatest Music Of Our Time – A Documentary

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Millions know their voices, but no one knows their names. In his compelling new film TWENTY FEET FROM STARDOM, award-winning director Morgan Neville shines a spotlight on the untold true story of the backup singers behind some of the greatest musical legends of the 21st century. Triumphant and heartbreaking in equal measure, the film is both a tribute to the unsung voices who brought shape and style to popular music and a reflection on the conflicts, sacrifices and rewards of a career spent harmonizing with others.

These gifted artists span a range of styles, genres and eras of popular music, but each has a uniquely fascinating and personal story to share of life spent in the shadows of superstardom.    Along with rare archival footage and a peerless soundtrack, TWENTY FEET FROM STARDOM boasts intimate interviews with Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder, Mick Jagger and Sting to name just a few.  However, these world-famous figures take a backseat to the diverse array of backup singers whose lives and stories take center stage in the film. TWENTY FEET FROM STARDOM stars singers Darlene Love, Merry Clayton, Judith Hill, Claudia Lennear, Lisa Fischer and Tata Vega.

Visit the Twenty Feet From Stardom Official Website For Screening Dates In Your City.

Wayne Shorter: Zero Gravity Documentary [Pledge Project]

Wayne Shorter: Zero Gravity Documentary [Pledge Project]

WAYNE SHORTER: ZERO GRAVITY, A DOCUMENTARY ON ONE OF THE GREATEST LIVING JAZZ LEGENDS IS TO BE RELEASED IN 2014.

The inception of ZERO GRAVITY began in 2006 and principal photography is now in progress. ZERO GRAVITY is an intimate portrait of an artist who has influenced music for over six generations. Wayne Shorter continues to break through the imposed limitations of jazz with even more innovative compositions and recordings than he has achieved in the last 50 years. Join the celebration of Wayne Shorter’s life and musical legacy by pledging to help complete this film by 2014.  Click Here  or the image above for more film information and pledge details.