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Rolling Stones take the stage in first-ever show in Cuba

The Rolling Stones rocked tens of thousands of Cuban and foreign fans at a free, outdoor concert in Havana.

FILE. The Rolling Stones (L-R) Mick Jagger, Charlie Watts, Keith Richards and Ron Wood, are pictured upon landing in Montevideo on 15 February 2016. Picture: AFP

HAVANA - The Rolling Stones rocked tens of thousands of Cuban and foreign fans at a free, outdoor concert in Havana on Friday, capping a week of engagement with the West for the Communist-run country that once censored the veteran British band's music.

The Stones kicked off their first-ever show in Cuba with their hit Jumpin' Jack Flash. It was first recorded in 1968, when Cuban rock fans were secretly sharing pirated vinyl records and risked being sent to rural work brigades to cure ideological deviation.

The group followed with It's Only Rock 'n Roll (But I Like It), which may carry extra meaning for Cuban fans who once faced discrimination for their musical tastes.

Fans started gathering 18 hours ahead of time at Havana's Sports City football and baseball fields, including Cubans who travelled from across the Caribbean's largest island and foreigners who flew in for the occasion.

"I love Mike Jagger so much. I've always dreamed about this. I couldn't sleep knowing he would be here," said Angela Menendez, who cleans floors in a hospital and said she arrived at 2 a.m.

People were dressed in all manner of jeans, T-shirts and boots with the Stones' tongue and lips logo. Noticeably absent were would-be entrepreneurs selling T-shirts or memorabilia.

Cubans have taken to colouring the tongue with the stars and stripes of the US flag, whether in the mistaken belief that the British rock stars were American or in the spirit of this week's historic visit by US President Barack Obama.

The Stones formed in London in 1962, just three years after Fidel Castro's bearded, long-haired rebels toppled a pro-American government.

Ironically, Castro's revolutionary government came to see counterculture bands like the Stones and the Beatles as dangerously subversive and prohibited their music on TV and radio.

Half a century later, both the Rolling Stones and Cuba's leadership share a longevity, performing well beyond what most people would consider retirement age.

"Time changes everything", Jagger, 72, told reporters on his arrival at Havana airport on Thursday.

Sjoerd Olrichs, 67, said he became a Stones fan when he first heard Not Fade Away on the radio in his native Netherlands in 1964. He has seen 77 Stones concerts since 1970.

"To me, it's not about seeing the Rolling Stones. It's about seeing the Rolling Stones in Cuba. It's special for the Cuban people," Olrichs said.

For Cuban Juan Carlos Leon, 57, the event was more than special.

"To me, this is a consecration," Leon said as nearby fans broke into their own a cappella version of the band's (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction. "I've waited my whole life for this. The Stones are the greatest."