Bilko Cuervo
Film Director

Bilko Cuervo, 29, makes conversation the way he makes his award-winning music videos: lots of passion, lots of jump cuts. After talking with him you can see why he was happy to come to Havana when he was 15. He was born in Holguin, about 700 km east of Havana, but Bilko needed the faster pace of the capital.

He found his way to film directing through advertising. He made television commercials that looked and sounded like pop videos, and then it was only a sideways shuffle to the real thing. Today Bilko claims to have made a staggering 156 music videos and an even more staggering 124 parachute jumps ("every great artist has a secret life!"). His experience in advertising taught him to deliver for his clients even if he happened not to be the biggest fan of what they were selling. That lesson proved crucial for him, because while he has a personal preference for rock and hip hop, Bilko's career took off thanks to reggaeton. He won a Best Video award in 2007 for directing the "Eddy K" band in "Apagon Total". He made "El Gremio" for Gente de Zona and "Baby" for Alianza Cubana. "I don't especially like reggaeton music, but it's my work," he says.

The trick for him is to make each film as interesting as possible – and apparently to make each as Cuban as possible, too. Havana decors are a common thread running through much of Cuervo'sfilms (William Vivanco's "El Pilón", Jackeline Vell's "Nada", "Tú" by David Torrens, Osamu's "Hoy Quiero Mas"...). He says he likes to bring the mood and look of the streets, of Cuban life, into his videos whenever possible.

He has a special fondness for a ruined building on Calle Humboldt in Havana, the site of a restaurant that burned down and never re-opened. Amid the vegetation that has reclaimed much of the skeletal structure, twisted iron girders stick out crazily in all directions. To most filmmakers this would look like a place of lethal accidents waiting to happen and interrupt production. To Bilko Cuervo it is the perfect "underground" setting for a hip hop video such as Cuban Expression's "Chica Bonita". He clearly prefers to have real urban menace on his hands rather than any watered substitute.

"Cuban music is in the midst of an enormous crisis," he declares. "It's all about sex, money, big cars." If this is the music of the people, so be it– but Bilko doesn't see why music can't be both danceable and intellectually stimulating. As an encouraging example he points to Puerto Rican rappers Calle 13, whose sharp social commentary and satirical lyrics set them apart from the reggaeton rank-and-file.

Recently Bilko made a documentary that took him far from the problems of Cuban music in the 21st century. He went back to Cuban music in the 18th century to make Yo Soy Tumbero. The film tells the story of the Tumba Francesa, a flamboyant drumming style and dance brought to Cuba by Haitian immigrants. Considering that the Tumba Francesa first gained popularity in Cuba's eastern provinces, it also means that Bilko Cuervo has come full circle– back to where he once belonged.