Words by Walshy Fire
Photos by Shane McCauley
This past Sunday, Major Lazer performed in front of a crowd of approximately 450,000 along the waterfront in Havana, at what was essentially the first concert on the island by a major U.S.-based act in over 50 years. Of course, Major Lazer aren’t just a U.S.-based act, but one that represents the Caribbean, in all its totality, with members Walshy Fire and Jillionaire representing Jamaica and Trinidad, respectively, and a track record as Caribbean music’s most visible ambassadors for the last 6 years running.
Sunday’s concert was the culmination of a weekend the group spent in Cuba getting to know the culture in one of the last Caribbean markets previously untouched by the group. Here, Major Lazer MC and longtime LargeUp contributor Walshy Fire shares a few highlights from the trip.
When we landed we went straight to a meet and greet where local DJs and producers could ask questions. It was interesting to find out what kind of software they were using, what they have access to what they’re making, what their influence is.
Right after that, we met with the Minister of Culture, whose grandparents are Jamaican, and we sat with him and held a press conference with all of the local newspapers and some foreign media outlets. Being that we’re in Cuba, I wouldn’t doubt that you don’t see a picture from the event that isn’t from us.
That is the American Embassy. They went and put a bunch of Cuban flags on those flagpoles in front of the American embassy back in the day.
At the end of every show we do this pic that shows exactly where we were. I don’t know how that got started — it might have started before me. We’ve been doing it it for five years. It’s a tradition.
Every show we’ve done, it’s always been a good amount of people, but you never think that many people are going to come to the show. This moment, it was like, Wait a second. What is happening? This is bigger than we even thought. And then you realize, it is way bigger than you thought.
This was at an afterparty at this small place, inside a big place called Fábrica de Arte Cubano. That melodica is on the wall but it looks like it was in my hand.
This is right outside the hotel. Those cars are all taxis parked outside the hotel.
Just walking around going to the Old City in the day was dope as hell. Seeing everything stop in 1950, like ‘Yo, there’s nothing past 1960 here, nothing.’ You really are stuck in time, but you also could see just how wealthy some of the parts of the country were. And you start to wonder, What was happening? I walked into one building, and it was marble everything — marble roof, marble staircase. And there was a bunch of people inside selling clothes like it was nothing, like Who cares? I was like this is opulence at its highest level. I haven’t seen anything like that in any other island.
I heard Cuba was the last place to end slavery on the Western side of the world. You wonder what it was like to make the idea of revolution start. What I saw was opulence and unbelievable wealth, and you go into the market and you see people selling all that wealth — watches, jewelry, clocks, from the ’50s. Its all out there. I asked one of the guys, and he said, Anything you thought was opulent — think of solid gold plates and cups — the English and Canadian people came in the last 20, 30 years, and they got that already. It really makes you think, What was going on down here?
It’s really strange that all of the Cubans in Miami are white and all of the Cubans in Cuba are African. You rarely see a black Cuban in Miami. There was clearly a rich poor thing. I can’t imagine how rich those Cubans were, and you start to look at all of the Cubans in Miami, and they are all white and you go to Cuba and the country is 70 percent African. Everybody there is black. Castro’s revolution was definitely a black-people movement. Good or bad, it was something the Africans in Cuba embraced. And it was clearly something that white Cubans were not fucking with. It was incredible to see what you didn’t think you would see, and to be flipped over and think, This is not what I thought it was going to be.
That is at the back of the hotel. I was thinking, What do we do next? This is right there as one of the greatest moments of my life. Kenya and Cuba are the top, I wouldn’t say either is No. 1. At some point, I was thinking, How do we top this? I went on Instagram and said, Haiti. That would be perfect for me. But that’s personal. People were all over my Instagram saying to come, talking about other places that we haven’t been. There were a few in there that were dope, like El Salvador.