Cuban culture minister Abel Prieto presented U.S. band Kool & the Gang with an honorary award from the Cubadisco 2009 Festival, given to artists who contribute "to human improvement," Cuban media reported.

Cubadisco is the annual Cuban music fair that takes place in Havana every May.

As previously reported, Kool & the Gang played a free concert on Dec. 20 to thousands of fans at the Anti-Imperialist Tribunal, becoming the first U.S. band to play on the island since Audioslave performed at the same open-air site in 2005. The tribunal is situated a few meters from the North American Interests Section (SINA) on the Malecon seafront, which serves as the U.S. embassy.

"We have received many awards in our country such as the Grammy, but this is one of the most important in our long artistic career," band leader and bass guitarist Robert "Kool" Bell told reporters.

On Dec. 21, the band visited the Guillermo Tomás conservatory in eastern Havana, where they spoke and played music with students. "Despite being very young, they are excellent and very passionate and disciplined, and put a lot of spirit into what they do," Bell added.

"These young musicians are the best musicians of their age I have seen until now," said Dennis Thomas, another band founder member.

Natividad Valdés, the director of a music instrument factory, gave Bell a Cuban three double-chord guitar called the 'tres' as a gift. The band's 11 members then heard leading 'tres' player Pancho Amat and his group Cabildo De Son, plus trumpet player Jazek Manzano and singer Eduardo Sosa, play 'tres'-based music.

Bell, 59, stressed before the concert that "not everybody will agree, but we did not come here as politicians. We came as musicians." In the past few months, the U.S. has broken a decade-old prohibition on Cuban cultural exponents being allowed into the U.S., and singers such as New Trova artist Pablo Milanés and former Buena Vista Social Club member Omara Portuondo have received visas to play in the country.

Kool & The Gang became famous in 1973 with the album "Wild and Peaceful," and songs such as "Celebration" and "Joanna."