Hundreds of music lovers gathered at an open-air concert in a Havana park to celebrate the release of the band's landmark album, evoking memories of the past when the Beatles were beloved but censored in the communist country.

Beatlemania has flourished belatedly on the Caribbean island, where authorities in the 1960s and 1970s considered Beatles songs "ideological diversionism."
Beatlemania has flourished belatedly on the Caribbean island, where authorities in the 1960s and 1970s considered Beatles songs "ideological diversionism."

Communist-run Cuba, which once frowned upon the Beatles as a decadent Western influence, held an open-air covers concert on Thursday in a Havana park to celebrate 50 years since the release of the band's landmark album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Beatlemania has flourished belatedly on the Caribbean island, where authorities in the 1960s and 1970s considered Beatles songs "ideological diversionism."

That censorship faded after the Cold War ended and late President Fidel Castro in 2000 pulled a cultural about-face, calling John Lennon a "revolutionary" hero and unveiling a bronze statue of him sitting on a park bench.

#letsplaypepper To celebrate #SgtPepperDay, Liverpool invites the world to play the album on 1st June. No matter where...

Posted by The Beatles on Thursday, June 1, 2017

Today, Beatles music is played on the Cuban airwaves and Lennon Park is one of Havana's minor landmarks.

A woman dances during an open-air covers concert in celebration of the release of the Beatles' landmark album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band 50 years ago, in Havana. (Reuters)
A woman dances during an open-air covers concert in celebration of the release of the Beatles' landmark album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band 50 years ago, in Havana. (Reuters)

Beloved Beatles

Hundreds of Beatles fans turned up to rock to Cuban covers of emblematic songs from the band's eighth album, considered by many to be their best, sometimes with a local twist like a salsa beat.

"The Beatles are beloved in Cuba. They are the greatest there is in the history of music," said Ivan Rico, a dock worker, who like many at the concert sported a T-shirt emblazoned with the image of Liverpool's Fab Four.

Rico said he felt his school punished him for enjoying the Beatles so he was delighted now to be able to indulge his passion.

Other music lovers recalled smuggling in tapes or records and listening to them at clandestine parties.

"I couldn't live this at the appropriate time of my life, so I'm fulfilling that dream I still have now," said Ruben Urias Raurell, 62, who traded his fishing equipment for his first Beatles record as a youngster.

Lennon Park, a pilgrimage destination

Lennon Park has become a pilgrimage destination for local fans as well as foreign tourists. Guards ensure they do not make off with the iconic round-rimmed spectacles placed on the Lennon statue.

"You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one" from the song "Imagine" is engraved in Spanish at the foot of the statue. Around the corner from the park is The Yellow Submarine, one of several tributes bars across the island.

The Rolling Stones, another band that was once censored in Cuba, played to a crowd of nearly half a million people in March 2016.

Source: Reuters