Cuba's journey from rock labor brigades to the Rolling Stones

Fri Mar 25, 2016 2:33am EDT
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By Frank Jack Daniel

HAVANA (Reuters) - When Carlos Carnero's rock band Los Kent plugged in guitars and drums to play Rolling Stones covers on Cuba's Island of Pines in the 1960s, soldiers stopped the gig at gunpoint in minutes and marched the musicians onto a boat heading back to the mainland.

Now some 50 years later, Carnero is preparing to see the Stones play to a crowd of 400,000 people in Havana on Friday in the latest sign of Cuba's thaw with the West.

It is the first time the British band has performed in Cuba and caps a week in which U.S. President Barack Obama made a historic visit.

The Stones arrived in Cuba on Thursday.

"Time changes everything," Mick Jagger said at Havana airport, when asked about a former ban on his music in Cuba.

Despite the stern treatment Los Kent received in the 1960s, Carnero's instruments were not confiscated that day and his band survived to play in secret house parties. Others suffered more for their love of rock and roll, including being sent to farms in labor brigades meant to correct "ideological deviation."

"They called it the music of the enemy," Carnero said, clutching dog-eared black and white photos of Los Kent as young men on stage in 1963.

Hippies and rock fans faced repression in Europe and the United States too in the 1960s, but Cuba went further, banning music from artists such as the Stones, the Beatles and Elvis Presley on the radio and television after the 1959 revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power.   Continued...

Mick Jagger, Charlie Watts, Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood of the Rolling Stones stand together after landing in Havana. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado