HAVANA TIMES — The longest performing rock and roll band, the Rolling Stones, played their long-awaited first concert in Cuba on the evening of Good Friday, March 25. It was a free event and held on a sprawling outdoor grass area of what is known as Havana’s Sports City. The happening was amazing after decades of cultural repression.
The Havana show was the last concert of the bands “Ole” tour to ten Latin America countries.
There was a large presence of police and security agents both on the streets and within the concert grounds.
Fans greeted Mick Jagger, Ron Wood, Keith Richard, and drummer Charlie Watts with an explosion of joy with shouts and applause. A typical stage from abroad, commented people who were next to me, fascinated by the beauty of the scenery, and the famous logo that identifies the Rolling Stones. But this time the tongue had the Cuban flag, emerging again and again on the screen and he drove us all crazy.
The huge modern video screen and the sophisticated sound raised the level of a people accustomed to poor technology. However, the low height of the stage conspired against many fans in the back who could not fully enjoy the show for lack of visibility.
There were fenced in areas up front on the sides. One of the closest to the stage was reserved for people in the government including Vice President Diaz Canel, the Cuban Five, other officials and many foreigners. In the next closed off area were artists and intellectuals, herded in by fences on both sides. The scene reminded me of the ancient Roman Empire where this group were considered people with no social class.
Mick Jagger, as host, began speaking in Spanish, and said he was very happy to be on the island. He further noted that in the past their music could not be heard on the island, but now the times were changing. Between jokes, he said some popular Cuban phrases and repeated softly: Cuba, Cuba, Cuba. He went on to thank Cuba for al the music it has bestowed on the world. Meanwhile, Keith Richard, speaking in English, said: “It’s amazing!”
There was an immediate connection with the audience chanting songs, and responding in English to Jagger, who praised Cubans and called them good singers.
Among the anecdotes, he said that the night before he visited the British Embassy, and then had dinner in a paladar (private restaurant) eating rice and beans, but that the best was dancing to rumba music at the Casa de la Musica.
“The Satanic Majesties” kicked off the concert with Jumpin` Jack Flash, It`s Only Rock’Roll. Start Me Up, I Miss You, Gimme Shelter, and Brown Sugar, very consistent with the euphoria that was being lived there.
The band dedicated to Cubans the romantic song Angie, the only love theme. Another successful moment was when guitarist Keith Richard led two country numbers: Before They Make Me Run, and I Got The Silver. And for the close, the Cuban singing group Entrevoces joined the Stones for: You Can’t Always Get What You Want. Paint It Black was a memorable moment for the guitar riff by Keith Richard.
The irreverent, Sympathy For The Devil was also part of the show and seeing Mick Jagger with his red cape, to end with a strong Satisfaction. After the hour and a half concert I was left with the desire to hear Let’s Spend The Night Together and As Tears Go By.
The musicians were formidable, and Mick Jagger showed boundless energy, dancing and moving throughout the stage, highlighting the rock alignment that has made a strong influence on other musicians, adapting to all sub-genres of rock, and various musical styles in contemporary music.
Will the Stones return to Havana one day? Will they ever play for Cubans again? It is difficult to say, but what is undeniable is that they have opened the way for other rock bands to illuminate the rock scene in Cuba.