Thursday, May 13, 2010

NOW! - Lena Horne and Santiago Alvarez

American singer, actor, and civil rights activist Lena Horne died this week.

As John McAuliff rightly points out in this recent post at The Havana Note, none of the covereage of her passing that I heard took note of her amazing in-your-face performance of the song "NOW!" (Does anyone know if she wrote the lyrics to the song too!?)

Here's a taste of the lyrics.

The message of this song's not subtle
No discussion, no rebuttal
We want more than just a promise
Say goodbye to Uncle Thomas
Call me naïve
Still I believe
We're created free and equal,
Now, now, now, now

Everyone should love his brother
People all should love each other
Since they say we all got rhythm
Come on, let's share our rhythm with 'em

Now is the time
Now is the time
The time is nowwwwww
So, why is El Yuma mentioning all this here in his Cuba blog?

Well, it turns out that I had heard this song before (I even played it for my students in class a few times) but did not really know it was Lena Horne singing it. (Hey I was born in 1971 and they did not play Lena in my house).

NOW! is the title to a 5 minute documentary film by the late, great Cuban propaganda filmmaker Santiago Alvarez (and I do mean great and I do mean propaganda).

The film is simple enough. Lena belting out the words, while Alvarez fills the screen with endearing footage of sweet home Alabama in the 1960s - bloodied Blacks with batton weilding white cops and German Shepherds lunging. Sweet home indeed!

Take a look at the film below.

I wonder what would happen if a Cuban made such an "urgent" film about race relations, civil rights, or human rights in Cuba today. (Well I think we know what would happen). Come to think of it NOW! is just the right word for that too.

If this gets your blood pumping, there's a lot more from Alvarez. Start with this: "He Who Hits First, Hits Twice: The Urgent Cinema of Santiago Alvarez." This great DVD collection includes an hour-long documentary on Alvarez as well as a collection of many of his best works. (More here, here, here, here, and here).

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