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For a brief time in the 1960s, there was no musical group in Cuba bigger than Los Zafiros ("The Sapphires"). The all-male Afro-Cuban quintet specialized in a blend of American doo-wop with Afro-Cuban son and salsa rhythms that created a unique form of Latin pop. Although the embargo has helped keep them from gaining their just due on American soil, a new film debuts locally that documents the up-and-down career of the music group that journalists once dubbed Cuba's answer to the Beatles. The group's co-founder, Miguel Cancio, now a resident of South Florida, spoke with New Timesabout the experience.
Outtakes:Does it surprise you that your group is getting so much attention once again after all these years?
Miguel Cancio: When we first started, we had no idea that our legacy would last so long. We were aware that we were doing something different. Our vocals were different, and we were breaking barriers and going against traditional Cuban music, but never in my wildest dreams did I think it would be popular this long.
It's hard not to notice that all of your musical influences in Cuba were black. Is there a particular reason for that?
I never had an opportunity to watch any white groups back in the '60's. We always enjoyed the African-American sound. We were great fans of the Four Tops, the Platters, the Jackson 5, and so on. We always loved the black groups more than anything.
Is it bittersweet to watch the new documentary at times?
Bittersweet is a good way to put it. It's sweet because of the great success we had as a group and bitter because we refused to integrate ourselves within the political system of the time and even more sad that other members of the group are not here to enjoy all of these happy times.
If the political situation in Cuba changes, will you return and play music again?
The moment the Cuban political system changes and the Castro tyranny ends, I'll be one of the first to return to help continue the country's musical legacy. I am a Cuban before anything else. Jonathan Cunningham
Los Zafiros: Music From the Edge of Time plays March 2, 3, 5, and 6 at Cinema Paradiso, 503 SE Sixth St., Fort Lauderdale. For a complete listing of screening times, visit www.fliff.com or call 954-525-FILM.