Timing. That was the theme echoed by everyone involved in Major Lazer's historic concert in Havana, Cuba on March 6, 2016. Two years prior, then President Barack Obama normalized relations with Cuba, opening the door for more regular cultural exchanges like this one with Major Lazer. Diplo, Jillionaire and Walshy Fire's journey to getting the gig and eventually putting it on was documented in the new Sundance Selection, Give Me Future, directed by Austin Peters.
Major Lazer is a global band, not just a trio of DJs, as they are quick to point out. Diplo has lived all over the United States and traveled the world, Jillionaire is Trinidadian and Walshy Fire is Jamaican-American. Their music incorporates Caribbean influences and they have always taken on ambitious projects to perform in difficult places such as Islamabad or Caracas.
That was one of the main reasons why Major Lazer and their team decided to attempt this ambitious show in Havana. Again, timing. In interviews with locals involved with the show, notably Fabien Pisani, the promoter and liaison between team Major Lazer and the Cuban government, emphasized that this was the first group coming to Cuba who was on the cutting edge of music at the height of their career.
Major Lazer was at the mountaintop in 2015 and 2016. "Lean On" was a ubiquitous global smash hit and one the most streamed song on Spotify at the time. Despite their global brand, Major Lazer came to Cuba without knowing whether or not people knew their music. The Cuban government controls the flow of information, so getting music can be a challenge. Give Me Future spends a fair amount of time with Dany Garcia, a 27-year old computer-savvy entrepreneur and one of the leaders of the Paquete Semanal.
This is remarkable system where popular music, TV shows and movies are downloaded to a hard drive each week and disseminated through couriers offline to all of Cuba right under the government's nose. The film makes a point to show the resourcefulness of the Cuban people in managing life with the embargo and this DIY way of consuming pop culture embodies that.
The documentary attempts to shine a light on the Cuban music scene, taking the viewer into a restaurant where a local band is playing, who is eventually booked as an opener. It does a pretty good job of building out the stories of the two openers, but gets bogged down at time with some less necessary elements of the story. Diplo has his time on camera, but Walshy Fire & Jillionaire are only really treated like side kicks, though this should be their moment on camera.
The footage from the concert is fun and well shot, but seeing shot after shot of the crowd jumping up and down from the stage wears on you. It is at its very best shining a light on the Havana youth culture, and the struggles that local musicians face trying to create music and put it out. There is a point when Major Lazer meets with local artists in the late teens to late 20s, to talk about their experience creating music on bootlegged software, working with old equipment and struggle without normal avenues of distribution. After the local musicians stand around filming on smart phones and bobbing their head with the same neutral expressions that you would find at a similar event in New York, Paris or Tokyo. The future is with these kids and Major Lazer in Havana is just the tip of the iceberg.
Give Me Future was premiered at Sundance 2017 over the weekend.