Rolling Stones rock huge crowd in Cuba

The Rolling Stones performing during a historic free concert in Havana on Friday. Bands such as the Stones and the Beatles were in the past seen by the Cuban government as dangerously subversive, and their music was prohibited on TV and radio.
The Rolling Stones performing during a historic free concert in Havana on Friday. Bands such as the Stones and the Beatles were in the past seen by the Cuban government as dangerously subversive, and their music was prohibited on TV and radio. PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

HAVANA • The Rolling Stones have rocked a massive crowd at a free outdoor concert in Havana, capping a week of engagement with the West for the communist-led country that once censored the veteran British band's music.

The Stones started their first show in Cuba with Jumpin' Jack Flash, a song recorded in 1968 when Cuban rock fans were secretly sharing pirated vinyl records and risked being sent to rural work brigades to cure "ideological deviation".

"We know that years back, it was hard to hear our music in Cuba, but here we are playing. I also think the times are changing," lead singer Mick Jagger said in Spanish to a roar from the crowd. The singer spoke in Spanish throughout the 18-song show of hits that lasted more than two hours. The band played Sympathy For The Devil as a yellow moon rose through clouds, and finished a two-song encore with Satisfaction.

Fans started gathering 18 hours ahead of time at Havana's Sports City football and baseball fields, including Cubans who travelled from across the Caribbean's largest island and foreigners who flew in for the occasion.

While no official estimate was immediately available on the crowd size, Cuban state media estimated that half a million people could fit in the venue, which was nearly full.

The audience, including teenagers and pensioners, reserved some of the biggest cheers for Jagger's snaky dance moves.

The Stones formed in London in 1962, three years after Mr Fidel Castro's bearded rebels toppled a pro-American government. Mr Castro's revolutionary government came to see counterculture bands like the Stones and the Beatles as dangerously subversive and prohibited their music on TV and radio.

Half a century later, both the Rolling Stones and Cuba's leadership share a longevity, performing well beyond what most people would consider retirement age.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 27, 2016, with the headline 'Rolling Stones rock huge crowd in Cuba'. Print Edition | Subscribe