The Story Of The Rolling Stones Making History On Their First Show In Cuba

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We’re all used to hearing The Rolling Stones, but to Cubans, it was mind-blowing music.

The Rolling Stones
The Rolling Stones performing in Cuba in 2016

Back in 2016, The Rolling Stones broke an international record. They became the first major rock band to perform in Cuba after the country lifted a ban on rock music.

What? A ban on rock music, you say? Yes, it’s true. Here’s the backstory.

Following the Cuban revolution, Fidel Castro banned rock music. It wasn’t on Cuban state-own TV and it wasn’t on the radio. Even Cubans who wore long hair like The Beatles or The Stones or wore beards faced harassment from the authorities.

And at The Stones’ concert– which was free to attend, mostly because Cubans earn about $20 per month in wages– Mick Jagger was not afraid to point out their anti-rock past.

“Years ago it was difficult to hear our music but here we are,” he said to the crowd in Spanish. “The times are changing.”

The Rolling Stones
The Rolling Stones members that most people would recognize today (photo via theticketbay.com)

After the United States and Cuba announced in 2014 that they would be repairing their broken relationship, the work began to lift the Rock n’ Roll ban.

And it all culminated in The Stones playing a raucous set, including “Paint it Black,” “Sympathy for the Devil,” and “Brown Sugar.” Instead of blowing up balloons, the audience inflated condoms, which they bounced around in the air.

Ernesto Estevez, an English teacher who lives across the street from the field where the concert happened, remembered how then President Barack Obama made a historic visit to Cuba the same week of the record-breaking concert.

“I never would have guessed both things would have happened the same week,” he said. “But it has happened,” he said. “Which means anything can happen.”

Check out their performance of “Brown Sugar” during that concert:

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Caleb Murphy is a musician who writes about music. His writing appears in Consequence Of Sound, Pittsburgh City Paper, and some other cool places. He blogs about music at calebjmurphy.com.
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