Throughout his entire career, Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson has become synonymous with curating and giving music to the people. The Grammy Award-winning drummer from hip-hop band The Roots and musical director for The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon has reinvented himself time and time again as a producer, session musician, ethnomusicologist, voice-over narrator, sought-after DJ, best-selling author, and distinguished lecturer.
One enduring constant about Questlove is how he continuously quenches his thirst for music. His 13-minute short documentary, Quest for Cuba: Questlove Brings the Funk to Havana, is an immersive visual experience courtesy of Okayplayer Films that chronicles the multi-talented musician’s crusade to create cultural exchange. Still wearing his signature Afro with a pick nestled in the front of his scalp, Questlove lives out his dream on camera, to show ties between American hip-hop music and Afro-Cuban culture.
Directed by Jaunetsi and Daniel Petruzzi, Quest for Cuba – which screens at the 19th Annual Urbanworld Film Festival tomorrow evening – brilliantly captures the ambiance of the island and its people. Questlove is captured by cinematographer Hector David Rosales in a few crisp sequences seated in the back of a convertible. Across the film’s other scenes, he chats with a cast of producers, emcees, historians, artists and civilians on the street. An infectious percussive score composed and produced by Edgaro Productor n Jefe, who assumes additional roles as Questlove’s cultural interpreter and tour guide, adds even more color to the vibrant short documentary.
Quest for Cuba opens with the exceptional timekeeper’s two-night residency DJing at Fabrica De Arte Cubano this past April. Almost instantly, the perfectionist performer who first visited Cuba 12 years ago when The Roots played a sold out show at Teatro America bounces between rocking the crowd under strobes, meeting-and-greeting with his fans and most importantly, becoming an inquisitive student of Cuba’s rich, indigenous music scene.
Edgaro and Questlove, both pouring in sweat, dig in the crates at a vintage vinyl shop and visit the famed EGREM Studios where the majority of those recordings were made. The studio is also where Questlove is exposed to The Triumph of the Revolution and discovers how the musical output fell victim to the political climate of the times.
Not only absorbing the music and sociopolitical history of Cuba like a sponge, Questlove also realizes how his own musical output has left its own indelible imprint, chopping it up via subtitles with local artist Etian aka “Brebaje Man.” The revelation brings Quest for Cuba to a full circle moment for Questlove, as his objective to seek inspiration ultimately leads to him actually being the inspiration to others.
While Quest for Cuba may be short in length and avoids going into too many details about the artists, the brief clip is a great example of concisely documenting how one of the most creative, thought-provoking musical figures of his generation strives to enhance his own understanding of the one thing that drives him – music.
Quest for Cuba: Questlove Brings the Funk to Havana screens at the Urbanworld Film Festival Saturday, September 26 at 8:00pm ET. For more information and to purchase passes, visit urbanworld.org.
UPDATE [10/10/15]: Watch Quest for Cuba: Questlove Brings the Funk to Havana in full below.