The Rolling Stones may have made the bigger media splash with the announcement it would play a free show in Cuba March 25, but Major Lazer will make history with what’s believed to be the first open-air, American pop concert booking since the U.S. cut diplomatic ties with Cuba and imposed an economic embargo in 1962.
Diplo’s Major Lazer is to play a free show at La Tribuna in Havana, near the Malecon, on Sunday, March 6. The group’s visit was originally envisioned as part of May’s Musicabana festival, but Major Lazer’s team and festival facilitators at Musicabana realized the separate show represented a unique opportunity.
The Windish Agency’s Sam Hunt, who reps Major Lazer, is quick to point out that the U.S. economic embargo is still in place, and there were a lot of hoops to jump through in order to stage the show. But it didn’t hurt that in addition to Diplo having Caribbean ties, Walshy Fire and Jillionaire – his partners in Major Lazer – are from Trinidad and Jamaica, respectively.
“They’ve done a lot of shows around the Caribbean,” Hunt told Pollstar. “They have sort of an annual standing show in Trinidad and one in Jamaica that they produce and promote themselves. They’ve been very successful. They did a tour a couple of years ago that went through the Caribbean literally on a catamaran, where they went island to island performing shows from a boat.
“Cuba stands out as a major, if not the major, island down there that they’ve never played before – obviously, there’s never been opportunities to play there. But as that started to change, it became clear that this was going to be an important thing for them to do. It was like a gaping hole in their Caribbean resumé,” Hunt said.
Over the last couple of years, as overtures were made between the U.S. and Cuban governments, overtures were made to Major Lazer’s team as well.
“People began to approach us wanting to try to set that up, knowing it’s not the easiest thing in the world and it would be a real labor of love,” Hunt said. “We talked to a bunch of them and one person, Fabian Pisani, who runs an organization called Musicabana, his vision was to do the first major international festival in Cuba. So he was one of the people we talked to, and talked to him about doing this stand-alone show sort of leading into his festival (taking place May 5-8).”
Hunt and TMWRK CEO Andrew McGuinness traveled to Cuba in December with Pisani, who is Cuban, and one of his partners to look at venue options and meet with Cuban government officials.
“It’s been a real zig-zag; it’s definitely not a straight line moving forward to the show taking place. None of the normal rules for touring really apply. None of the roles exist. It’s at a pretty striking venue and location where the government wanted us to do it.
“They are supporting it with police and security, power, bathrooms, etc. It’s a Communist nation so property rights are not what we know, normally. So we’re working with them on it. They’ve been very supportive so far. We gave them videos and music and they’re playing it. We gave them a little teaser ad for the show and they’re playing it on Cuban radio and TV.
“Beyond that, we’re sort of on our own. It’s a free show, open to anyone. There’s no income and no sponsorship possibility just because of the nature of the market. So we are doing it because everyone feels very strongly about doing it,” Hunt said.
He refers to the show as a “labor of love” for Diplo, who has always driven the direction of his career – an example of which is his Mad Decent Block Party festival that he curates. And it has to be a labor of love for his team, too, because there’s no money to be made in the Havana adventure, and his team is covering the bulk of the costs to play there, Hunt said.
“For us, it’s just important. We could play Las Vegas and U.S. festivals all day long, but this is the only way you can play Cuba,” Hunt explained. “For us, it’s an important thing to be able to bring the music and the show to people who otherwise would not be able to experience it. It’s a very empowering thing for people, we think. “Sometimes it’s easy, and sometimes it’s hard. This show has taken more time and work than any show I’ve booked in the last two or three years. That’s across the board but I don’t think anybody feels like that’s a bad thing.”