Chris Cornell: I remember Cuba

Chris Cornell says ’05 Cuba concert showed him how music is ‘that language that everybody speaks.’
Chris Cornell says ’05 Cuba concert showed him how music is ‘that language that everybody speaks.’ Casey Curry/Invision/AP

Chris Cornell remembers the challenges that he and members of Audioslave faced when they were planning a free concert in Havana a decade ago, and he’s encouraging the Rolling Stones to tell their musician friends to perform in the country that once persecuted young people for listening to rock music after the band visits later this month.

In 2005, Cornell, Tom Morello, Tim Commerford and Brad Wilk flew to Cuba in the Miami Heat’s jet and filmed their visit and outdoor concert in Havana for a DVD, all while Fidel Castro still ruled.

Cornell said the band spent $1 million to fund the concert at the Anti-Imperialist Tribunal.

“It wasn’t easy . . . but we figured out how to do it,” he said.

On March 25, the Rolling Stones will perform a free show at Havana’s Ciudad Deportiva, becoming the most famous act to play Cuba since its 1959 revolution.

The Cuban government has eased restrictions on the arts and recently has allowed more large gatherings not organized by the state. Colombian singer Juanes drew more than a million people to a show titled “Peace without Frontiers” in Havana’s Revolution Plaza in 2009, and Diplo, the Grammy-winning electronic DJ-producer, recently performed in Havana with his group, Major Lazer.

The Stones are expected to draw a large crowd.

“They should just use up every second that they’re there and not sleep and just be there with the Cuban people,” Cornell said.

The Soundgarden frontman said that planning the 2005 show — with the help of the U.S. State Department — was trying and unpredictable. He said that although the U.S. was OK with the band’s five-day visit, “Fidel Castro hadn’t decided if it was going to work for him or not, and they were reviewing our music and the tone of it.”

Cornell and his former band mates visited art galleries, radio stations, theaters and music schools. A government official accompanied the band and crew as they shot footage for the live concert and documentary, Live in Cuba.

Cornell, 51, said he wants to go back to Cuba and tried to plan another concert five years ago, but it didn’t pan out.

“I really didn’t think the same after I left,” he said. “I really understood what music is and how it’s that language that everybody speaks no matter what other audible language you speak.”