With its candy-coloured Colonial architecture and classic cars, Cuba’s capital can feel like a film set. Hazel Flynn takes you behind the scenes.
The “Cuban mile” drag race that opens the turbocharged 2017 blockbuster film The Fate of the Furious is fictitious but Havana’s streets really are filled with chrome- and fin-bedecked Yank tanks dating back to the 1940s and ’50s, before imports were banned. The beautifully illustrated book Cuba’s Car Culture (2016), by Tom Cotter and Bill Warner, lovingly details how dodgy Russian parts, mattress springs and dogged inventiveness have kept them going against the odds.
- Three Trapped Tigers by G. Cabrera Infante: If you love playful literary fiction, this may be the best book you’ve never read. Originally published in Spanish in 1965 and in English in 1971 then republished in 2015, it’s a punning, irreverent and dazzling story set in the nightclubs that filled the city in the 1950s.
American musician Ry Cooder introduced many of Cuba’s incredible but long-neglected musical talents to rapturous audiences around the world via the Buena Vista Social Club album in 1997. The music is seductive and timeless and there’s no better soundtrack for Havana daydreaming.
- Cuba Isla Bella (2016): This single by recently re-formed Cuban hip-hop trio Orishas retains the driving Latin rhythms that characterise the country’s music but layers them with passages of urgent rap and appearances by an assortment of guest artists to create a unique contemporary sound.
- April Sun in Cuba (1977): We’ll take any excuse to enjoy the hit song by New Zealand-Australian band Dragon. It was inspired by German chess player Emanuel Lasker blaming the heat and glare of Havana’s sunlight for his defeat at the World Chess Championship in April 1921.
Director Fernando Pérez relies on images, music and ambient city noise – not dialogue – to tell the story in Suite Habana (2003), an award-winning doco that follows Habaneros aged 10 to 97 as they go about their daily routines. President Fidel Castro was still firmly in charge when the film was made so Havana’s seamier side is absent but Pérez doesn’t sugar-coat what it takes to survive. Even so, it’s the moments of shared joy and the sense of resilience that linger.
- Buena Vista Social Club: Adios (2017): Answering questions about what happened to the artists after the breakthrough album (1997) and film (1999), this documentary celebrates both the departed and those who live on and puts their music in context.