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Major Lazer’s Cuban Diplomacy

03:01 PM Friday 3/11/16 | |

Major Lazer performed what’s believed to be the first Cuban show by a major American pop artist since at least 1962 for a crowd estimated at 450,000 at Havana’s José Martí Anti-Imperialist Platform March 6.

  • Havana Free Concert Crowd

    Fans enjoy the afternoon at the Havana seafront during a free concert by EDM group Major Lazer in Havana, Cuba, March 6.

    (AP Photo / Ramon Espinosa )


The show was the culmination of 14 months of planning by EDM superstar Diplo, the force behind Major Lazer, along with Walshy Fire and Jillionaire, and their team.

“It was really, really incredible,” The Windish Agency’s Sam Hunt told Pollstar. A mostly teenaged crowd packed the waterfront concert site, in front of the newly reestablished U.S. Embassy, according to the New York Times, and from photos it appears the kids are all right – making the heart symbol with their hands so ubiquitous at any American EDM party. The trip was “kind of a lofty idea,” Diplo told the Times, “because I didn’t think these kids even knew our music.”

The group provided the Cuban government with video and audio packages of their music, which received promotion in the run-up to the show. But even with limited internet access on the island, it appears the music and culture are pretty well-known.

The visit reportedly included other small parties and “impromptu DJ sets,” one drawing an estimated 2,000 to a late-night party at the Hemingway Marina. Diplo was recognized by fans as he visited sites around Havana, according to the Times.

He also did interviews, including one with Charlie Rose for CBS.

“The money DJs make is obnoxious and it’s not going to be around forever,” Diplo told the New York Times. “I’m accepted, so I get those Vegas residencies. But I didn’t start making music to do those residencies. I started making music to do cool things like this.”

Doing “this” was no simple undertaking. While the Cuban government provided power, security and other onsite amenities, Major Lazer paid its expenses out of pocket – to the tune of a reported $150,000 for equipment and travel for about two dozen team members.

The staging lacked the usual eye-popping accoutrements of, say, an Electric Daisy Carnival, but the audience – waving American, Cuban and Major Lazer logo flags, didn’t appear to mind.

Interest was piqued with the help of what is known in Cuba as an “el paquete seminal,” or weekly package, “a hand-to-hand digital distribution service that spreads bootlegs of songs, YouTube videos, news, movies and TV shows around the country via hard drives and USB devices,” according to the Times.

Diplo acknowledged to the paper that he also paid for his music’s inclusion. The event wasn’t without careful scrutiny from authorities. The group apparently considered, but wasn’t allowed, to bring unannounced “special guests” to the stage (“It’s not in the contract,” organizer Fabien Pisani told the Times).

But relations were said to be “respectful,” with Pisani adding “it’s all about building trust.”

“They are maybe anxious, but they understand it’s important. As public servants, they have a mission to provide entertainment to that generation – to those kids who have a different expectation of life than my generation or themselves,” Pisani told the Times.

Government officials seemed pleased. Major Lazer “established a very respectful relationship with the Cuban public and has been really respectful toward Caribbean roots in general,” Orlando Vistel Columbié, president of the Cuban Institute of Music, told the paper.

“This is the beginning – we’re writing the story right now for these kids,” Diplo added. “It’s going to be different from here on out.”


Artists Mentioned in this article