To quote a Rolling Stones’ staple, time is on their side. In a country that once frowned on rock n’ roll, the British invasion will finally reach Cuban shores decades late when the Stones perform a free concert on March 25.
A year after President Barack Obama re-established relations with Cuba and just days after his planned historic visit, the evergreen Stones will perform at Ciudad Deportiva, a sports complex in Havana. It will be the first performance by a major British rock group in Cuban history.
“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,” the Stones said in a statement.
Many of the Rolling Stones’ Cuban contemporaries could only listen to smuggled rock tapes or records in the 1960s and ’70s.
Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro himself balked at what he saw as the crass consumerism and decadent influence of Western rock and banned Beatles’ recordings in 1964. One Havana woman, now in her fifties, recalls listening to her one Beatles records in her bedroom with her girlfriends all gathered around and the volume turned very low.
But by 2000, and even before, all that had been forgotten and forgiven by Cuba’s leaders. With All You Need is Love playing in the background, Fidel Castro himself unveiled a life-sized bronze statue of John Lennon in a Havana park on the 20th anniversary of Lennon’s death on Dec. 8, 2000.
“What makes him great in my eyes is his thinking, his ideas,” Castro said. “I share his dreams completely. I too am a dreamer who has seen his dreams turn into reality.” Through the years, Castro had begun to think of Lennon as a fellow rebel.
This will be the Stones’ first major Caribbean stop, though original and remaining members Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Charlie Watts recorded the Goats Head Soup album in Jamaica in 1973. The group was formed in London in 1962.
The Cuba stop is a last-minute addition to the band’s America Latina Olé Tour, which has played to packed stadiums in Santiago, Chile; Buenos Aires; Montevideo, and Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and Porto Alegre, Brazil. Lima and Bogotá follow next week before what was originally the finale of the tour, a Mexico City concert on March 17.
The Stones will also participate in a musician-to-musician initiative by teaming with several organizations to have musical instruments and equipment donated to Cuban musicians.
Expect the Havana concert’s set list to approximate what the Stones have been playing on the America Latina Olé Tour: Jumpin’ Jack Flash, Brown Sugar, Sympathy for the Devil, Miss You, Tumbling Dice, Gimme Shelter and Paint It, Black among them.
The concert is being underwritten by Curacao-based Fundashon Bon Intenshon, which supports charitable projects in education, cultural literacy, athletics, healthcare and tourism as well as those that mitigate poverty.
An article that appeared in Granma, the official newspaper of the Cuban Communist Party, said the concert will come at “a historic moment that will open the doors for other great bands to arrive in Havana.”
Rumors had been circulating in Cuba about a possible Stones concert ever since Jagger visited Havana last October.