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Not a dream: The Rolling Stones – the view from Havana

By Samuel Rivas / Posted March 7, 2016

Unknown-3The mythical rock band The Rolling Stones confirmed their presentation for the Cuban public next May 25th. The free concert will take place at the Ciudad Deportiva de La Habana, and will be the first open air concert in the country by a British Rock Band.

The concert, which has been in the planning stages for several months, comes only days after President Barack Obama’s recently announced his visit to Cuba. Natacha García, communications director for Cuba’s National Institute of Music, says the Ministry of Culture had to move the concert from March 19 to March 25 because of Obama´s visit on March 21st.

Mick Jagger visited the island a year ago, and a rock music journalist wrote about it in the state newspaper, Granma. He said “there have been a million phases” and “a year of negotiations” before both sides could agree on an event that has “never been seen in Cuba before.” “Jagger had a good time here,” continued the journalist. “He went to private clubs and danced with people. He even played with the band Interactivo. Waiters said he drank Cristal beers and liked the vibe.”

The Stones will bring their high octane performance and incredible music catalogue to the Caribbean for the first time ever, although the rock-and-roll public in the island is not in majority, given the predominance of the taste for Son, Reggetón, and Pop music, among the Cuban youth. On the other hand, the Cuban regime prohibited the sale of the band’s records for years, considering its music a symbol of capitalism. But now Raúl Castro´s administration has opened the door to the greatest band in the world, as a symbol of new airs of liberalization.

“This is an act of reparation for a historic injustice against The Beatles and the Stones,” says the famous Cuban writer Leonardo Padura in a telephone interview. Listening to these groups could lead to arrest, charges of hostility to the regime, and prison time for liking “the rhythms of capitalism.” “My generation listened to them in hiding. They sometimes came on the radio, […] and they were not shown on TV. If someone had told me when I was a teenager that this British band could one day play in my country, I would have said he had an incurable mental illness,” Padura said.

images-1The truth is that many Cubans over 35 years old, currently living in Germany, Ireland, Spain, USA, and many other countries, are planning to come to the island, since this could become one of the largest concerts in history. In 2006, more than 1.3 million people gathered to hear the Stones play at Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro.

The band is leading a musician to musician initiative in which much needed musical instruments and equipment are being donated by major suppliers for the benefit of Cuban musicians of all genres. Donors include The Gibson Foundation, Vic Firth, RS Berkeley, Pearl, Zildjian, Gretsch, Latin Percussion, Roland and BOSS with additional assistance from the Latin GRAMMY Cultural Foundation.

The Rolling Stones recently said: “We have performed in many special places during our long career but this show in Havana is going to be a landmark event for us, and, we hope, for all our friends in Cuba too.”

Samuel Rivas

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