Rolling Stones to hold free concert in Cuba

The Rolling Stones' singer Mick Jagger (above) during a concert in Sao Paulo, Brazil, last month.
The Rolling Stones' singer Mick Jagger (above) during a concert in Sao Paulo, Brazil, last month.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

HAVANA • The Rolling Stones will perform a free outdoor concert in Havana on March 25, the band announced on Tuesday.

It is a milestone event in a country where the communist government once banned the group's music as an "ideological deviation".

The band added that the Concert For Amity show - likely to be the biggest rock concert staged in Cuba - is tagged to a Latin American tour that was due to end on March 17 in Mexico City.

The show will come three days after United States President Barack Obama is due to conclude a visit to Cuba, the first by an American president since 1928.

Mr Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced in December 2014 that they would seek to normalise relations after more than half a century of Cold War animosity.

The concert, which will be filmed, is set to take place on fields surrounding Havana's Ciudad Deportiva, a 26ha sports complex.

It will be the first open-air concert staged in Cuba by a British rock band, the group 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," the band said in a statement, accompanied by an image of its members - frontman Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts and Ronnie Wood.

After the 1959 revolution that brought Fidel Castro, Raul's brother, to power, the Caribbean nation censured the group - formed in London in 1962 - as well as The Beatles and Elvis Presley.

Fidel Castro ultimately lamented the music censorship and attended the unveiling of a statue of the late former Beatle John Lennon in a Havana park on the 20th anniversary of his death on Dec 8, 2000.

"I very much regret not having known you before," he said during the ceremony.

In the meantime, Cuban rock fans had to resort to black-market recordings as Castro railed against youth who listened to "imperialist" music on transistor radios.

But Western musicians have increasingly flocked to Cuba in recent years, especially since 2014, when Mr Obama and Mr Raul Castro launched the reconciliation push.

Jagger, 72, visited Havana last October with one of his sons, fuelling speculation that a gig could be imminent. An Agence France- Presse journalist spotted the singer attending a concert by Bamboleo, a well-known band of the timba genre, which is similar to salsa.

At the statue on Tuesday, tour guide Julio Garcia reacted with joy to the news of The Rolling Stones' visit, which was filtering out slowly on the island.

"Los Rolling in Cuba? Wow," he said. "We have been waiting for them here for many years."

Mr Armando Gonzalez, 57, drove up in a blue-and-white Chevrolet built in 1954, before either the revolution or The Rolling Stones had tasted success.

"Their music has no borders," Mr Gonzalez said. "Now there is an opening and we will be able to enjoy them fully."

The Rolling Stones have a strong following in Latin America, where the band were to hold their show yesterday in Porto Alegre, Brazil.

Havana is now the final stop on the tour. The band said they would use the Cuban visit to distribute instruments to Cuban musicians, donated by major makers.

The latest tour is also ticking off the list three other countries where the septuagenarian rockers had not previously performed - Colombia, Peru and Uruguay.

The band may be one of a series of superstar acts to go to Cuba.

An article in Granma, the official newspaper of the ruling communist party, said that former Beatle Paul McCartney and Irish rockers U2 were both interested in going there, although neither act has confirmed plans.

Sting is also interested in playing Cuba and may try to go there before The Rolling Stones, Dominic Miller, the Argentinian-born guitarist who has long toured with the former Police frontman, told the news site www.cubadebate.cu last year.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 03, 2016, with the headline 'Rolling Stones to hold free concert in Cuba'. Print Edition | Subscribe