An incredibly contagious sort of magic seems to emanate from Cuba, and it involves human warmth, the spirit of setting challenges —despite the difficulties— the island's contagious music, and more.
For Swedish audiovisual producer Michel Miglis, this magic was inescapable. A resident of Cuba since 1996, he has worked closely with the island's cultural institutions since then, with the goal of promoting Cuban musicians and facilitating cultural exchange with artists from other nations.
Since his arrival to Cuba, his passion for reggaeton led him to meet and work with young Cubans who cultivate that genre, such as Cubanito 2002, Candyman, El Médico and Control Cubano, from Santiago de Cuba.
When he came to Cuba, that music still did not exist, Miglis told Cubaplus. In fact, he says, he considers himself responsible for its introduction, to the extent that he produced the first official album in 2001, Cubaton—Reguetón a lo cubano, which was nominated for the Cubadisco awards that year.
“This album,which I produced with my Swedish team and which features a group of Cuban artists, has 14 songs and a music video and it was an international hit,” Miglis said. The album's most interesting feature is what reggaeton represented for that time period, he commented. “It was the first time that a recording was made with an electronic background,” he said.
Regarding recent criticism of the vulgar and tasteless lyrics often used in the reggaeton genre, Miglis said that it was not the case in the early days. “It was a very nice rhythm that I liked very much, and with my group Topaz Sound, together with Cubanito, it was well-received.”
“We performed a concert in Havana at the José Martí Antiimperialist Tribunal, with 120,000 people, and we toured the entire country.”
Inspired by the genre's young performers, especially the figure of Reinier Casamayor, who is a doctor by profession, Miglis co-starred in the film El Medico: La historia Cubaton (El Medico: The Cubaton Story), a joint Cuban/Swedish production by Daniel Fridell.
Due to a producers' delay, it was not possible to include the film in the program of the 34th International Festival of New Latin American Cinema in Havana; however, it has been screened in theaters in Russia and Sweden.
Likewise, Fridell's film, which has been sold in 27 countries, has been featured in a number of film festivals, including the Sundance (United States), Mar de Plata (Argentina), and London, and it is set to be screened at the Belize International Festival, set for July 11-15. At last year's New York International Latino Film Festival, it won the prize for Best Documentary.
It is hard to believe that a man like Michel Miglis, who loves music and film, is a chemical engineer by profession, although he has never worked in that field.
“When I was 11 years old, I bought a dabe 8 film camera, because I was from a family that was very artistic, and that was my inclination from a very young age,” he said. In Cuba, he has filmed with artists like A-Teens, Carlos Baute, Dr. Alban, Razmus, Jimmy Cliff, Teddy Bears, ARASH and Lumee Dee.
“There is a vast amount of talent in Cuba,” he said. “That is why I do everything possible to show the world what exists here. Despite the fact that it is such a small island, it has many successes. And I am going to do everything possible to achieve cultural exchange,” he added.
Referring to setbacks that he has faced over the years, he noted one disagreeable episode involving the company Warner Music Latino of Miami, which rejected the music video Chupa Chupa, one of Casamayor's international hits, solely because it was performed by a Cuban who lives in Cuba. “Those responsible are part of the Cuban exile, and they rejected it for stupid reasons,” he said.
However, that was the first reggaeton song that was an international hit. “In Spain, Warner Music was the most powerful Latin music company, and that song [“Chupa chupa”] rose to number eight on the charts there. It was a real hit in Madrid,” he commented.
In Cuba, you live among family
Gratitude for Cuba's support in helping him to fulfill his goal of promoting Cuban music is implicit in Miglis's heart at all times. “They helped me so much with my work, that I was able to film wherever I wanted. I even filmed in the Capitolio,” he commented.
For that reason, “based on the success of the film [about reggaeton artist El Médico], Swedish producers asked me to write a book that would reflect my relationship with this country and about what it's like for a foreigner to live in Cuba.”
With great satisfaction, he said that Cuba fills an emptiness that can be felt in Sweden.
“Look, all human beings have their family, and without that chain you are nobody. But today in Europe, young people say that one person alone is strong. But what strength are they talking about? You can't be strong like that. The only thing that you create with that kind of attitude is people who are individualistic and unhappy, and that is very sad,” he said.
He said that according to a report that he heard on the radio, more than 50,000 young women in Sweden ages 18 to 25 take pills for depression. “What is being created is a generation of drug addicts. They don't know what they want,” he said sadly.
“In Cuba, it is different. There is respect; people live among family, and that reality —which is worthy of being imitated— is one of the examples that I will provide in the book that I am writing.”
Music, film and gastronomy
Casa Miglis is the first restaurant in Havana to specialize in Scandinavian food. Featuring a family-friendly environment, customers—including tourists, Cubans and foreigners who live in Cuba—choose Casa Miglis because it makes them feel at home.
“I'm very happy, because I was waiting for years for the opportunity to open a restaurant in Cuba. That was my dream; now it has become a reality,” he said. He noted the State's interest in giving a twist to gourmet life. “I am happy with the flexibility that has been shown; that will improve the quality of life of the Cuban people,” he said approvingly.