Chris Cornell remembers the challenges that he and members of Audioslave faced when they were planning a free concert in Havana a decade ago, and he’s encouraging The Rolling Stones to tell their musician-friends to perform in the country that once persecuted young people for listening to rock music after the band visits later this month.
In 2005, Cornell, Tom Morello, Tim Commerford and Brad Wilk flew to Cuba in the Miami Heats’ jet and filmed their visit and outdoor concert in Havana for a DVD, all while Fidel Castro still ruled.
Cornell said the band spent $1 million to fund the concert at the Anti-Imperialist Tribunal.
“It wasn’t easy … but we figured out how to do it,” he said.
On March 25, the Rolling Stones will perform a free show at Havana’s Ciudad Deportiva, becoming the most famous act to play Cuba since its 1959 revolution.
“What about all these other enormous bands?” Cornell said of encouraging other acts to perform.
“Particularly, I was thinking British bands, Australian bands that have sold millions and millions of records that can afford to go play for this audience — how come no one has come? And I sort of halfway assumed because we did it, in probably the most difficult way possible, people would follow, and I’m kind of surprised that it’s taken this long, but I am super happy that the Rolling Stones are doing it!”
Cornell added that Cuban fans are “amazing people and they deserve to see every rock band that you or I or anybody else gets to see.”
The Cuban government has eased restrictions on the arts and recently has allowed more large gatherings not organized by the state. Colombian singer Juanes drew more than a million people to a show titled “Peace without Frontiers” in Havana’s Revolution Plaza in 2009, and Diplo, the Grammy-winning electronic DJ-producer, recently performed in Havana with his group, Major Lazer.
The Stones, who will perform three days after President Barack Obama visits Havana, are expected to draw a large crowd.
“I think that they’re just going to have a fantastic time and they should just use up every second that they’re there and not sleep and just be there with the Cuban people,” Cornell said. “I also think that upon their exit they need to … tell all their friends in the music business and all their friends who are in bands who can afford to follow suit, and go right in and play music for the Cuban people.”
The Soundgarden frontman said that planning the 2005 show — with the help of the U.S. State Department — was trying and unpredictable. He said that although the U.S. was OK with the band’s five-day visit, “Fidel Castro hadn’t decided if it was going to work for him or not, and they were reviewing our music and the tone of it.”
“From the American side, there was definitely a lot of caution. They told us that our rooms would likely be bugged, they told us we would likely be followed … (and) not to talk to any strangers,” he added.
Cornell and his former bandmates visited art galleries, radio stations, theaters and music schools. A government official accompanied the band and crew as they shot footage for the live concert and documentary, “Live in Cuba.”
“She was in charge of making sure it was OK, everything we did, and if she said ‘yes’ the camera was on,” he said. “We didn’t try to sneak anything.”
Cornell, 51, said he wants to go back to Cuba and tried to plan another concert five years ago, but it didn’t pan out.
“I really didn’t think the same after I left,” he said. “I really understood what music is and how it’s that language that everybody speaks no matter what other audible language you speak.”