CUBA has hit the headlines this week for two reasons. Barack Obama paid a visit – the first time a sitting US president has visited since 1928 – and the Rolling Stones played a gig at the Ciudad Deportiva sports field in Havana.
Both of these events will go down in history as changing the face of Cuba forever. Not since 1952, when Fidel Castro entered Havana and overturned the Government has the island seen so much change.
It was clear from the outset, when Raul Castro took over the leadership of the country from his brother Fidel, that it was only a matter of time before Cuba and the US reconciled. However, it was a bit rich that Obama took his visit as an opportunity to demand Cuba look at its human rights, when on that very same island the US has Guantanamo Bay. Barack Obama promised to close Guantanamo within a year of becoming President. Eight years down the line, it’s still open. If the US wants Cuba to take human rights seriously it needs to look again at Guantanamo.
The only good thing to come out of Guantanamo Bay, according to Cuban rock and roll fan David Yaco, was the television signal beamed from the American Military base. Mr Yaco would visit his Aunt, who lived in the town of Guantanamo, and tune into the US channels coming from within the base. It was here in 1969 that he watched Woodstock.
He said: “Jimi Hendrix blew me away. I’d never seen anything like that, but he was never allowed on Cuban radio or television because of the association with drugs.
“Until the Stones took to the stage I kept telling myself it was just a dream. The idea of them actually playing here…It’s surreal”.
David Yaco spent much of the 70s, 80s and 90s being harassed by the police for just listening to rock music. Rock music was never, as commonly believed, declared illegal, but after a speech given by Castro at the University of Havana in 1963 it was actively discouraged. In his speech Castro warned: “There is in our midst a specimen, a sub-species, which we should confront. Many of these vagabond worms, sons of the bourgeoisie, wander around with trousers that are too tight – some of them with guitars and ‘Elvispresleyan’ attitudes”.
The Rolling Stones gig was the rock and roll revolution Cubans had waited for, for 50 long years. Decades of suppression and total isolation were swept aside as one band and 700,000 fans ushered in a defining moment in music and political history.
Centre stage, belting out a message of hope to Cubans, was Mick Jagger. He opened the gig with Jumpin’ Jack Flash – a hit from 1968, when Cuba was closed to the capitalist West. Jagger gyrated in his usual style to 450,000 fans inside the Ciudad Deportiva de la Habana baseball stadium as the crowd went wild for their first taste of superstar rock. A further 250,000 fans cheered on from outside.
I can only imagine Fidel Castro would have a great deal to say about the tightness of old ‘snake hips’ Jagger’s trousers. But, as Jagger said to the crowd: “The times are changing”.
AFTER my misty eyed ramblings a couple of weeks ago about the demise of Findus crispy pancakes, I am delighted to report that there has been a backlash on social media and that the frozen treat is set to return to supermarkets. They disappeared early this year after Young’s sold its Findus brand to rival Nomad foods. But Nomad will make crispy pancakes again under its Bird’s Eye name and it is also reviving Captain Bird’s Eye for its TV adverts. All is well with the world.
Kevan Blackadder is a media consultant who runs Blackadder Media Limited. Kevan was previously editor of the Gloucestershire Echo and assistant editor of the Bristol Post. A Cumbrian who moved to the South West “for a couple of years” in the 1980s, he can’t quite believe he’s been there ever since.