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Music hits with video clips filmed in Cuba - the singers and bands picking the island

There’s no doubt that Cuba has become more popular than ever as a filming location, not only for fashion photoshoots and Hollywood movies (like the eight instalment of the Fast & Furious saga) but also for music videos by emerging artists like Clean Bandit or Jess Glyne. Just days ago, Enrique Iglesias released his newest video clip for his new single Subeme la Radio, entirely shot in Havana, and rumour has it more than one popstar has Cuba in mind for their next music video production.

Music hits with video clips filmed in Cuba - the singers and bands picking the island

It’s been just days since we announced the official launch of Enrique Iglesias’ latest music video, which was not only entirely shot in Havana but also featured Cuban singer and songwriter, Descemer Bueno as well as Puerto Rican reggaeton duo, Zion & Lennox. And it’s not the first time the Spanish singer collaborates with Cuban musicians on a single, as his massive success with his record-breaking mega-hit “Bailando” was partly due to his teaming up with a Cuban team, Gente de Zona and Descemer Bueno despite filming in the Dominican Republic.

The video featured Cuba’s prestigious dance company “Litz Alfonso” and has since raked up close to 2 billion views on Youtube, becoming the first Spanish-language music video to have been viewed over a billion times.

But Enrique wasn’t the first musician to be inspired by Cuba as a location for a music video, and he certainly won’t be the last. Preceding him were singers like Barry Adamson and bands like Clean Bandit, with Major Lazer even making a documentary out of their live concert in Cuba in March last year (beating the Rolling Stones to it by three weeks!).

Following in Enrique’s footsteps we have emerging singers like Jess Glyne, well-established Latin artists such as Marc Anthony and up-and-coming European singers like the Carreira brothers, and, rumour has it, Maroon 5 will very soon be following suit with the filming of a new music video in the island.

Before that happens though, on this post we take a look at some of the most popular international music videos filmed in Cuba over the last few years or so, with the only one exception being an Indie oldie from 2002. Read on to find out more about the island’s music video scene in recent times and learn about the musicians behind such a bold Cuban move.

British singers filming music videos in Cuba

Believe or not, there’s quite a few British musicians that have been seduced by the idea of shooting a music video in Cuba in recent times. Here we list them and their Cuban videos in order of most recent to oldest.

Ain´t got far to go – Jess Glyne

This one is so fresh that hardly a little over a month has passed since its launch on 27th January. Londoner Jessica Hannah Glynne, more commonly known as Jess Glyne chose Cuba as the backdrop of her music video for “Ain’t got far to go”. The singer and songwriter who dabbles in dance, soul and house music genres with R&B influences showcased the beauty of Cuban streets and even got some local kids to dance along and choregraph a dance for her.

Directed by Declan Whitebloom video features a wide variety of locations in Havana, with the majority of shots taken in Centro Havana streets and buildings, including the interior of the crumbling mansion that’s famous for hosting La Guarida - arguably Cuba’s most famous private restaurant, where Madonna famously celebrated her 58th birthday. Beyond street choreographies, the filming of some Art Deco beauties and the passing of the odd iconic classic car, Jess also sang against some graffiti artwork of the Cuban flag (again, on the staircase of La Guarida) and partied inside a Cuban a multi-purpose cantina style bar. A fun video that perfectly captures Cuba’s free-spirited vibe.

Extraordinary – Clean Bandit

Probably the most evocative and decidedly the most scenic and varied of all videos in this post, Clean Bandit’s music video in Cuba is exceptional in more ways than one. For starters, it was shot in more than one location in the island, being the only one in this list to feature places outside Havana and beyond that it’s also the most imaginative and creative.

The locations they sought are not only extremely beautiful, they are also rare and not that easy to find on a typical trip to Cuba. I, for one I’m puzzled as to where they filmed the rocky scene with the natural green pool, it’s truly breathtaking. But the most outstanding thing of all is the fact that, in true adventurous, self-taught a spontaneous Clean Bandit style, they made the video themselves with help from friends, as Cellist Grace Chatto told The Guardian:

"[Cuba's] an incredible country – unlike anywhere else we have ever been to. We wanted to capture the euphoric feeling of the music in sunshine and dancing. We made the video ourselves … with help from two Russian friends and some wonderful people we met out in Havana.”

The video features guest singer Sharna Bass belting out tunes in the most unusual of locations – in the back of a moving classic car parading through Havana, under a waterfall, on a pristine sandy beach (I’m guessing it’s Cayo Largo’s Playa Paraiso) while other band members do pretty much the same, leaping (violin and all) into a pool of water, drumming under a cascading waterfall, or in the case of Grace Chatto, playing the cello on a branch tree over the waters of a lagoon. Every scene is worthy of a wow and a little piglet even has a cameo role. There are stunning shots of the Cuban countryside in the Valley of Vinales (a UNESCO-listed natural marvel) as well as of Old Havana, the beach and some undisclosed venues that perfectly go with the video’s carefree, unfiltered vibe.

Black Amour – Barry Adamson

Now, long before either Clean Bandit or Jess Glyne entered the music scene at all, there is one British musician and rocker who set his eyes on Cuba to shoot a music video. Launched in 2002, this one is kind of an oldie, with melody and lyrics that may remind you of a sexy Barry White song.

The style is old school sensual with models dancing on top of classic cars, clad in Tropicana cabaret-style outfits or provocatively dancing on crumbling rooftops. Most of the street shots, with the exception of a few are night-time scenes featuring vintage cars. Overall, however weird some scenes might be, it has a strong 50s and 60s vibe to it and while it might not be everyone’s cup of cake, it’s the most different of all in this list, and artistic in its own, Indie way.

International singers filming music videos in Cuba

With U.S. singers and bands banned from visiting Cuba until very recently, it stands to reason that not many more English language music videos would feature in this list, so the ones to come are mostly by Latin artists, in this case a mix of European and Caribbean ones. We start the countdown once again from most to least recent.

Hey Ma – Pitbull, J. Balvin and Camila Cabello

The freshest hit of them all to feature on my list, the music video for "Hey Ma" (official Fast & Furious 8 soundtrack) was released just days ago, on 10th March. Featuring a collaboration between Cuban-born rapper Pitbull, Colombian singer J. Balvin and Cuban-American singer, Camila Cabello, the part featuring the singers may not have been actually shot in Cuba (it was done in Miami, though streets were made up to look like Cuba) but the scenes featuring clips from the Fast & Furious 8 were filmed in Cuba.

As we told you earlier, the new instalment of the Fast & Furious saga made headlines when deciding to shoot part of the film in Havana. The stopover of the Fast & Furious 8 filming crew in Cuba was highly publicised and Vin Diesel spoke fondly of his experience in Cuba, sending a message to fans in Spanish that he had come to fulfil his promise of bringing Hollywood to Havana. The music video will give you a glimpse into the classic car races filmed in Havana for Fast and Furious’ latest sequel.

Subeme la Radio – Enrique Iglesias

The most recent of all and the one that headlined this post, Enrique Iglesias’ most recently released hit is another one aimed at a Spanish-speaking audience, though if it proves as popular as his previous Cuban collaboration it may become a border-crossing international hit.

Filmed entirely in Cuba, more precisely in Havana, it already has 51 million YouTube hits and although it hasn’t become number one in the charts yet it’s already topped the Latin Digital Song Sales list (just 6 days after its launch). We announced the music video’s filming in Havana and its subsequent release here, and the final product looks as good as promised.

Teaming up with Cuban singer and songwriter, Descemer Bueno for the second time around, Enrique made it to Havana to shoot the video clip for his new singer in the company of Puerto Rican duo, Zion & Lennox, who also appeared as guest singers on the video. With Old Havana as the main central location and many of the filming also taking place inside a vintage bus, the video also shows parts of the Malecon seawall and “El Salon Rosado de La Tropical", where the shooting session was open to all members of the public who wanted to participate in the video or take a sneak peek. The video also shows Enrique interacting with fans.

La Gozadera – Marc Anthony feat. Gente de Zona

Another huge hit in most Spanish-speaking countries, it seems that after Enrique Iglesias’ success with “Bailando” another high-profile Latin artist like Marc Anthony wanted to try his luck with Cuban duo, Gente de Zona. And so, it seems, that indeed, they did have the Midas touch, as the song proved an instant hit, climbing to number one across a wide span of Latin countries. But it wasn’t just about the song, the video, which was partly filmed in Cuba and Puerto Rico, proved a massive success that has been viewed over 700 million times on YouTube, ever inching closer to the billion mark.

Also directed by Cuban filmmaker Alejandro Perez, the parts where Marc Anthony appears alone or with Gente de Zona were shot in Puerto Rico, while the parts that show Gente de Zona on their own (namely dancing on top of a classic car in Old Havana and stopping traffic) were filmed in Cuba. With lyrics that pay tribute to the unity of Latin Americans and Spanish-speaking communities, this sort of Latino hymn featured dancers covered in flag-inspired body paint. Because of the street dancing, the colours, the scenography, the chosen settings and the intoxicating carefree vibe it conveys, this is my favourite in the list.

Senorita - Mickael and David Carreira

David and Mickael Carreira are French-born Portuguese brothers and singers, both quite popular in their native Portugal as well as France. Singing R&B, dance and pop tunes in Portuguese, French and English they have separate careers and normally perform solo, but on this occasion, they united forces and the result was a beautiful video shot in Cuba to accompany their joint single release for “Senorita”.

The video was released in July last year and at the time we told you all about it. Of course, you can expect classic cars to be a big part of it (it has become quite the cliché for music videos in Cuba) but the video also shows some birds’ eye views of the city as one of the brothers sings from a rooftop overlooking a background of buildings and the Havana Bay. Other iconic Cuban features include graffiti on walls with the image of revolutionary heroes like Che Guevara next to the Cuban wall as well as bicitaxis and cantina-style bars.

Rey Ruiz – Amor Bonito

A Cuban salsa king who became famous after his exile in Miami, Rey Ruiz returned to his homeland for the filming of “Amor Bonito”, a song he borrowed from fellow Cubans Leoni Torres and Descemer Bueno and a ballad that he turned into a salsa number. The location chosen for his version of “Amor Bonito” was the very quaint and pretty "Loma del Angel" in Old Havana, a neighbourhood famous for being the setting of a famous Cuban novel and for having the church where national Cuban icons such as independence war leader Jose Marti and prima ballerina Alicia Alonso were baptised. It’s a small square bursting with history and charm.

Yeandro Tamayo, the video’s director said of his decision to film there:

“We chose Loma del Angel for its history and for what it represents for “habaneros”. The church where Jose Marti and Alicia Alonso were baptised, there’s a beautiful statue of Cecilia Valdes, and it was here that a Cuban film based on Cirilo Villaverde’s famous novel was filmed, which is also a great love story…Thinking about all that, I made a connection with Rey Ruiz’s Amor Bonito (Beautiful Love).”

Dime si ahora – Leoni Torres feat. Beatriz Luengo

This duet is the result of a Spanish-Cuban collaboration between Beatriz Luengo and Leoni Torres. The Spanish songstress teamed up with a Cuban counterpart for a ballad that sounds very Cuban at its core but which is enhanced by Luengo’s emotional vocals. The video was partly shot inside a Cuban colonial house (also featuring its exterior patio) and on a Cuban roadside, giving glimpses of a verdant Cuban countryside. I like the song’s mellow vibe and the video’s natural, organic feel – they go together perfectly. It’s a simple and refreshing music video to look at and listen to.

Top Cuban music videos by Cuban singers

After we’ve explored international musicians and collaboration between foreign singers and Cuban ones, it’s time to turn our eyes to Cuba’s very own domestic music scene. Understandably, as for decades Cubans living in Cuba had little access to the world outside, there’s a very long list of Cuban music videos filmed in Cuba. Naturally, the list would probably be endless, so here we’re just going to focus on a few of the most recent ones, paying special attention to those who better portray different locations across the island with greater variety of settings and storylines, and not just classic cars or well-manicured shots of Old Havana. These are Cuban music videos shot in recent times that have also garnered some international acclaim, moving beyond the clichés and better representing the Cuba of today for average Cubans.

Hasta que se seque el Malecon – Jacob Forever

This video might have been entirely produced nationally but it achieved massive success both locally, and across the pond in Spain and in Miami. It topped the charts for quite a while and its title became quite the catchphrase in Cuban vernacular (“Hasta que se seque el Malecon” translates as “Until the Malecon dries up).

In case you didn’t know it, “El Malecon” is Havana’s scenic, eight-kilometre-long seawall. A fine example of Cuban reggaeton, the music video couldn’t be more Cuban and represents the urban landscape of the island, more specifically Havana’s. With a catchy tune that’s easy to dance to, the video is as colourful as the song and beautifully portrays various areas of Havana, mainly the Malecon, with amazing drone shots taking all of Havana Bay. The aerial views are nothing short of spectacular and the dancing by PMM and the National School of Art (Escuela Nacional de Arte) is not too shabby either. This is the Cuba of today with the music Cuban youngsters dance and sing to.

Mas Macarena – Gente de Zona feat. Los del Rio

Now, I’m sure you’ve heard the original "Macarena" song. It needs little introduction as it had everyone dancing to its beat, over and over in the 90s (and beyond). It’s become quite the cheesy party classic and it’s had a Cuban remake as of last summer, when the original “Macarena” teamed up with Cuban duo Gente de Zona to freshen up the song and give it a new lease of life, with a new version and a spanking new video to go with it.

Filmed in Cuba, the new version sees Los del Rio changing their suits and ties for lighter, colourful tropical clothing as they join Gente de Zona on a classic car ride through Havana. If you wondered whether Los del Rio had lost steam or energy, you will see they don’t lack either and they look as youthful as ever in this video (I do wonder if they’ve found the fountain of youth). It’s been 24 years since the original hit and this updated reminder might put a nostalgic smile in your face.

Para que un dia vuelvas – Leoni Torres feat. Pablo Milanes

I’ve picked this one because it’s one of the very few to be shot in the Cuban countryside almost exclusively, more specifically in Pinar del Rio. A clean and refreshing break from all the vintage-inspired videos in Old Havana, this one is as green as it gets, no hint of urban life anywhere. Cuba’s tobacco plantations are a backdrop to the music video’s storyline as are amazing shots of the Vinales valley and “bohios”, traditional rural houses made of "guano" (dry palm tree leaves). The song is a ballad and features Cuban music legend, Pablo Milanes, one of the founders of “La Nueva Trova” in the 60s – a Bohemian music movement that would be in line with today’s Indie style.

Es tu Mirada – Leoni Torres feat. Kelvis Ochoa and Alexander Abreu

Now this one video clearly doesn’t showcase city beauty or any Cuban landscape, rural, urban or otherwise as it’s shot entirely inside the recently reopened Sloppy Joe’s (a legendary bar once frequented by the American mafia) in Old Havana. But this is precisely what makes the video remarkable as it pays tribute to a once grand bar that had been closed off for 48 years. So, the fact that a music video brings it back to life adds a living piece of Cuban history to the puzzle, one that has been recently rescued from oblivion. Plus, I also happen to quite enjoy the song, and the trio of singers is quite outstanding and representative of Cuba’s quality music. So, yes - a great one overall and a great introduction to quality Cuban music – just hit play and see!

Removiendo el piso – OMI

Another fine example of Cuba’s Indie music scene, this video shot in black and white is a nod to old school style simplicity and to Cuba’s internationally prestigious ballet school. I was shot inside the Gran Teatro de la HabanaAlicia Alonso” and the music video earned the award as Best Ballad Video in the 18th edition of the Premios Lucas, Cuba’s most prestigious national music awards. It also received wider international attention in the Spanish-speaking Miami community and Latin America.

That’s a wrap…Who’s next?

That concludes my list of music videos shot in Cuba in recent times. Of course, this list is a reduced personal selection of my favourite hits both in the national Cuban scene and beyond, but the list is bound to keep growing and I’m sure by next year there’ll be at least two more international artists choosing Cuba to film their next music release. I say I’m sure because for a while Maroon 5 have expressed their desire to shoot a video clip in Cuba, while Spanish singer Melody is right now in Havana getting ready to film a music video for her song “Matame”, in which she’ll be joined by, yes, you’ve guessed it, Descemer Bueno, who has proven to have the Midas touch when it comes Cuban music collaborations.

Susana Corona

Susana Corona

The islands' go-between

Having lived most of my life between Cuba and the UK and being half-raised in both island nations, I...

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