Rolling Stones in Cuba

The Rolling Stones announced a free concert in Cuba in what is likely to be one of the biggest shows ever both for the island and the rock legends.

The March 25 concert will take place four days after a historic visit by US President Barack Obama, a powerful sign that the communist state is joining the global mainstream after decades of tension with Washington.

The Rolling Stones will play their first-ever concert in Cuba at the open-air sports complex Ciudad Deportiva in the capital Havana.

"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.

Cuba has a famously rich musical heritage but revolutionary leader Fidel Castro banned rock and roll in 1961, fearing a degenerate influence from the US-born art form.

The island eventually relaxed its ban but missed the full force of the "British invasion" by bands such as The Rolling Stones and The Beatles.

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

- Another country off Stones' list -

But Western musicians have increasingly flocked to Cuba in recent years, especially since 2014 when Obama and leader Raul Castro, the ailing Fidel's brother, launched the reconciliation push.

The Stones' lead singer Mick Jagger visited Havana in October with one of his sons, fueling speculation that a gig could be imminent.

An AFP journalist spotted the 72-year-old singer attending a concert of Bamboleo, a well-known band of the timba genre which is similar to salsa.

The Rolling Stones, one of the top-grossing acts in music, have a strong following in Latin America where the band is now touring, with the next show due Wednesday in Porto Alegre, Brazil.

Havana is now the final stop on the tour. The Rolling Stones said they would also use the 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.

- Musical rush to Cuba -

The Rolling Stones may be one of a series of superstar acts to come 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 coming, although neither act has confirmed plans.

Sting is also interested in playing Cuba and may try to come 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.

US artists have also been heading to Cuba at a growing pace. The US Congress, led by Republicans, has not lifted a strict embargo on Cuba but Obama has encouraged cultural exchanges and has authority to make exemptions for travelers.

US performers who have already headed to Cuba since the improvement of ties include light jazz saxophonist Kenny G, bearded hard rockers ZZ Top and Dead Daisies, the metal supergroup with members of Guns N' Roses and other bands.

Major Lazer, one of the most popular electronic acts whose "Lean On" is the most played song ever on streaming service Spotify, will perform on the Havana waterfront on Sunday.

Major Lazer's performance will kick off the new Musicabana festival that will feature more than 25 artists in a celebration of US-Cuban relations.

Obama will be the first sitting US president to visit Cuba since Calvin Coolidge in 1928, well before the communist revolution.

AFP | By Shaun Tandon

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