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Musicians Visit Cuba: A Look Back

In advance of Stones’ big Havana show, we recap six decades of historic trips

Diplo; Cuba

Diplo, a DJ and producer, performing with his Caribbean-influenced electronic group Major Lazer at a concert at the Jose Marti Anti-Imperialist monument in Havana, March 6, 2016. The event was the first concert by a major American pop act since the reinstatement of diplomatic relations between the two countries in December 2014 and had an estimated 450,000 in attendance. (Lisette Poole/The New York Times)

Lisette Poole/Redux

Despite its troubled political history, Cuba has generally enjoyed a warm relationship with international musicians. Over the years, a handful of artists in a variety of genres have traveled to the embargoed nation as cultural students and unofficial diplomatic representatives. For decades, the Cuban government placed a strict ban on rock music in the name of "ideological deviation," but these restrictions are becoming more relaxed.

The Rolling Stones have taken advantage of the thawing relations by announcing a free show in Havana on March 25th — taking place less than a week after Barack and Michelle Obama's arrival there — to conclude their Latin American tour. "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," the band said in a press release. They follow Diplo and Major Lazer, who played an open-air concert to a crowd of half a million Cubans on March 6th

As Cuba's iron curtain continues to fall, here is a brief history of musicians who have made the trip to perform or merely learn.

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The Dead Daisies (2015)

The Aussie-American rockers were invited to Havana as guests of the Cuban Ministry of Culture, Cuban Institute of Music and the Cuban Rock Agency in early 2015. While there, they jammed in a recording studio with local musicians, conducted workshops in Cuban schools and played several sets. The trip culminated in the Cuba Rocks for Peace concert, which attracted a crowd of more than 6,000. "The week in Cuba was unbelievable," enthused guitarist Dave Lowy to Loudwire. "It was one of the best musical experiences of my life."

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Major Lazer (2016)

When the electro prince and his posse stormed Havana's Anti-Imperialist Platform on March 6th, the 400,000 Cubans in attendance weren't completely sure what to expect. "It's amazing because we have never received someone like him," a local music fan told a reporter for Pitchfork. Major Lazer is the first EDM act to ever play in Cuba, ushering in a new kind of cultural exchange. The concert, 14 months in the making, was entirely self-funded. "We came to bring peace," Diplo announced from the stage.

The appearance preceded Barack Obama's historic visit by just a few days. "I was lucky enough to visit Cuba a few years back with my friends Calle 13," Diplo tweeted after the event. "And during my four days there, my mind was blown by the people, depth of culture and their way of life."

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