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).

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Soul Train: The Music, Dance, and Style of a Generation by Questlove

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An illustrated, vibrant book commemorating the legacy of America’s longest running syndicated television program, Soul Train: The Music, Dance, and Style of a Generation includes a wealth of historical photography and celebrity commentary that will give fans an in-depth look at the cultural phenomenon that launched the careers of such renowned artists as Tina Turner, Stevie Wonder, the Jackson 5, Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye and many others.

With it’s debut in 1971, Soul Train set off a cultural revolution in music, dance, and fashion. During the course of 1,100 episodes, creator, executive producer, and host Don Cornelius gave new meaning to the culture of “cool,” and in the process launched the careers of dozens of artists and introduced the world to hundreds more, including Elton John, David Bowie, Black Eyed Peas, De La Soul, Justin Timberlake, Destiny’s Child, and Snoop Dog.

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This book will feature more than 500 images, some never seen before, of the people who lived the phenomenon from the stage, dance floor, and behind the scenes, as well as celebrity commentary about the show’s impact on their careers and on our culture.

As the longest running syndicated program in television history, Soul Train’s worldwide impact was tremendous and changed the lives of millions, including celebrated front man of the Roots, Questlove. His commentary, which revisits the show over the decades, is accompanied by exclusive photos and memorabilia. When Don Cornelius died in 2012, he left a legacy of “peace, love, and soul,” and this book serves as the ultimate tribute to get readers grooving down the Soul Train line again.  Soul Train: The Music, Dance, and Style of a Generation by Questlove in book stores October 22, 2013.

Mo’ Meta Blues: The World According to Questlove

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Mo’ Meta Blues is a punch-drunk memoir in which Everyone’s Favorite Questlove tells his own story while tackling some of the lates, the greats, the fakes, the philosophers, the heavyweights, and the true originals of the music world. He digs deep into the album cuts of his life and unearths some pivotal moments in black art, hip hop, and pop culture.

Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson is many things: virtuoso drummer, producer, arranger, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon bandleader, DJ, composer, and tireless Tweeter. He is one of our most ubiquitous cultural tastemakers, and in this, his first book, he reveals his own formative experiences–from growing up in 1970s West Philly as the son of a 1950s doo-wop singer, to finding his own way through the music world and ultimately co-founding and rising up with The Roots, a.k.a., the last hip hop band on Earth. 

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Mo’ Meta Blues also has some (many) random (or not) musings about the state of hip hop, the state of music criticism, the state of statements, as well as a plethora of run-ins with celebrities, idols, and fellow artists, from Stevie Wonder to KISS to D’Angelo to Jay-Z to Dave Chappelle to…you ever seen Prince roller-skate?!?

But Mo’ Meta Blues isn’t just a memoir. It’s a dialogue about the nature of memory and the idea of a post-modern black man saddled with some post-modern blues. It’s a book that questions what a book like Mo’ Meta Blues really is. It’s the side wind of a one-of-a-kind mind.

It’s a rare gift that gives as well as takes.

It’s a record that keeps going around and around.

Mo’ Meta Blues coming to a book store near you June 18, 2013.

Sample This – The Story Of The Incredible Bongo Band

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The amazing story behind the creation of one of the most influential albums in popular music.

Set against the backdrop of social and political turbulence in the USA of the late 1960s, Sample This tells the amazing story of the creation of one of the most influential albums in popular music. In June 1968 Michael Viner was an aide to Bobby Kennedy. His roommate, ex-NFL star Rosey Grier, was a bodyguard for the aspiring President. They were both there the night when Sirhan Sirhan’s fatal shots rang out in Los Angeles. Grier wrestled the pistol from the killer’s hands while Viner watched stunned from the sidelines. Viner was devastated by the death of Bobby Kennedy and left politics to work for MGM. While there, he was asked to produce the soundtrack for a B-movie, The Thing With Two Heads, which starred his former room-mate Rosey Grier. The resulting album was The Incredible Bongo Band’s Bongo Rock, a commercial failure that nonetheless included the seminal Apache, the track that’s hailed as the foundation of hip-hop. Narrated by Gene Simmons and directed by Dan Forrer, Sample This features new interviews with hip-hop luminaries Questlove, Melle Mel, Grandmaster Caz, Grand Wizzard Theodore and Afrika Bambaataa.

LONDON Screening of Sample This – June 21, 2013 at the British Film Institute