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Rolling Stones rock Cuba with free concert

March 26, 2016

Thousands of Cubans have packed a stadium in Havana for a free concert by British rockers The Rolling Stones. Cuban state media estimated that as many as 500,000 people would attend.

British singer and frontman of rock band The Rolling Stones Mick Jagger performs during a concert at Ciudad Deportiva in Havana, Cuba © Getty Images/AFP/Y. Lage
Image: Getty Images/AFP/Y. Lage

Mick Jagger welcomed concertgoers by saying in excellent Spanish, "Hello Havana!! Good evening to my Cuban people," before leading the band into their first song, "Jumpin' Jack Flash."

The crowd was made up of older couples, families, tourists and plenty of young people. Thousands of people unable to get into the venue packed the surrounding streets near the city center, with the music echoing clearly for more than half a mile (about a kilometer).

Many concertgoers said the event showed that Cuba was finally coming out of the cold after decades of ideological and economic isolation.

This concert is going to be the key

"I think I'm going to cry," said Miguel Garcia, 62, in an interview with the AFP news agency. Garcia had come by bus from Cienfuegos in Cuba's south for the concert, and slept on the sports field ahead of the show.

"This concert is going to be the key to the door closing us in. The Rolling Stones are going to open it so that Cuba has more choices of rock bands, especially from the era we were unable to participate in."

Fans gather near the stage © Reuters/I. Alvarado
Some fans came from the other side of the country to take part in the historic concertImage: Reuters/I. Alvarado

'Time changes everything'

As they arrived at the Havana airport, Jagger indirectly referenced the recent changes in Cuba.

"Obviously something has happened in the last few years," said Jagger to waiting reporters. "Time changes everything [...] We are very pleased to be here and I'm sure it's going to be a great show."

US President Barack Obama re-established diplomatic relations with Cuba last year, in an attempt to end the legacy of the Cold War and prompt Cuba to engage in more reforms of its single-party system and centrally controlled economy. Earlier this week, Obama visited Cuba and met with President Raul Castro, the first US president to make the trip in nearly 90 years.

Rock and roll was not always welcomed, nor available, in Cuba. Between the 1960s and 1990s, the music was discouraged to varying degrees, leading during the most repressive years to clandestine listening sessions and an underground trade in smuggled recordings.

"A Rolling Stones concert in Havana? It's a dream," Eddie Escobar, 45, told AFP. Escobar founded one of Havana's few clubs for live rock music, the Yellow Submarine.

He remembers secretly searching for US commercial radio frequencies so that he could hear the Stones, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and other iconic bands.

The Stones' Cuba stop ends their "Ole" Latin America tour, which also included concerts in Brazil, Uruguay, Chile, Argentina and Mexico.

The Rolling Stones - eagerly awaited in Cuba

av/cmk (AP, Reuters, AFP)