© 2007 by C.E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.
Cuban hip-hop singer Mikki Flow who appears in the

© 2007 SONY BMG

1998 saw the launch of a hip-hop festival in
Cuba, and over the years, the event grew to draw
artists from around the world (including the USA)
and over the years, several filmmakers have been
efforts is
EAST OF HAVANA which unfolds in
2004. The film, directed by Jauretsi Saizarbitoria
and Emilia Menocal, daughters of Cuban
immigrants, opens as Hurricane Charley is
bearing down on the island just days before the
annual festival.

The viewer might be excused for thinking that the
film might deal with the impending storm and its
effects, but instead, the directors move to
address a more metaphorical storm -- that of
poverty and struggle.
its focus to three aspiring hip-hop singers,
Soandres Del Rio Ferrer (known as Soandry),
Magyori Martinez Veita, and Michel Hermida who
goes by the rap name Mikki Flow.

While the movie attempts to inform the casual
viewer about the history of Cuban hip-hop, which
dates from the time in the early 1990s when
economic hardships became even worse following
the collapse of the Soviet Union and the ongoing
American embargoes,
the political issues. Instead, it focuses on the
lives of the three singers who separately and as
members of the group El Cartel make music that
expresses their frustrations and dreams. They are
fed up with lives of poverty (Magyori details how
she is able to create meals from virtually nothing
as well as articulates a desire to escape from
Cuba and never look back.)

Perhaps the most intriguing thing about the
movie is that these artists more or less are able
to circumvent government censorship and find
outlets for their somewhat radical ideas.

EAST OF HAVANA is flawed in many ways,
though. The movie makers don't seem to trust
that the singers' tales are dramatic enough.
Instead, they add in the story of Soandres'
brother Vladimir who escaped from Cuba in 1994
and has settled in upstate New York. It adds a
bit of sentiment to the film, but really isn't

And the hurricane? Well, it does hit the island
and the government uses it as an excuse to
cancel the hip-hop festival. There are vows that
some event will occur, but that is not addressed
in the film. (The festival was staged in 2005, so
it may really have been a matter of the
government having to marshal resources
elsewhere. The filmmakers don't really bother to

It would have been nice to say that
serves a terrific introduction to the
world of Cuban hip-hop, but I cannot. It's a very
worthy but unsatisfactory effort by two first-time
Running time:    82 mins.