Spanish director Karim Dridi’s picaresque documentary about Havana street musician Miguel "El Gallo" Del Morales gives us Cuban music without the trappings of celebrity or the comforting nostalgia that are part of Wim Wenders’s Buena Vista Social Club. Instead it shows how music infuses the existence of Cuba’s poverty-stricken population and makes life not merely bearable but magical. As El Gallo travels from Havana to Santiago de Cuba and back, music accompanies his every act, and his love of life cuts through his most forlorn songs.
The film offers no historical context, but in following El Gallo’s wanderings, Dridi captures textures and rhythms of Cuban life that elucidate what the son, bolero, changuí, and other folkloric styles mean to the people from whom they spring. Santiago de Cuba’s Los Cubanos Jubilados, young trumpet phenomenon Aníbal Ávila, trumpet veteran Pepín Vaillant, singer Mirta Gonzáles, and cocky Cuban rapper "Juan" (Mario Sánchez Martínez) may not be international stars, but in their vivid performances they evince a fierce devotion to the music of their home towns, perhaps because they have almost nothing else to call their own. (96 minutes)