REVIEW: ‘Havana Time Machine’ celebrates Cuban music

The new documentary Havana Time Machine, part of PBS’ Great Performances series, features the cultural and personal musings of Raul Malo, the singer-songwriter behind the band the Mavericks. He opens the 50-minute film expressing his emotional connection to the island nation and his excitement for visiting the place of his parents’ youth. While in Cuba, Malo focuses on the music and musicians that make the country’s cultural output so unique and so celebrated around the world.

Along the way, Malo talks with musicians about their contributions to the Havana music scene. His interview subjects include Eliades Ochoa, the guitarist best known for his appearance in the Buena Vista Social Club movie and on the accompany album; Ivette Cepeda, who has such a strong voice; jazz artist Roberto Fonseca; and Sweet Lizzy Project, an indie band that records in their home studio.

The interviews that Malo conducts are never terribly deep. They are pleasant conversations about the uniting force that is music. Talks of revolutions and politics are nonexistent; instead, Malo is more interested in the wonderful cultural additions of the island and its people.

The visuals throughout the documentary are beautifully complementary. Many of the images are of iconic Havana, featuring large cigars, old cars glistening in the sun, fascinating people watching and colonial architecture.

The documentary, which is now available on DVD from PBS, finishes with a concert that features each of the interview subjects. The setting is perfect: a tucked-away concert venue in the forests outside Havana, a place where the architecture has lost its battle with the vines. Malo himself is joined by the Mavericks to finish the film with a few songs, including “Guantanamera,” which keeps the audience dancing, the singers swaying and the instrumentalists toe-tapping to the infectious beats.

Havana Time Machine is a simple and enjoyable film about a place that is complicated and culturally significant. It chooses (rightly) to celebrate and unify the contributions of the included artists, and the audience is the better for it.

By John Soltes / Publisher /

Havana Time Machine, featuring Raul Malo, is now available on DVD from PBS. Click here for more information.

Photo: Havana Time Machine features Raul Malo, lead singer of the Mavericks. Photo courtesy of Nohely Oliveros.

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Earth Island Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at, among other publications. E-mail him at

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