Travelling Latin America With The Rolling Stones
Late on Monday night, I found myself with some free time. I hit the Netflix button on my remote and was presented with the usual mix of films and series their algorithm thinks are to my liking.
One suggestion did stand out from the rest - Rolling Stones: Ole, Ole, Ole! A Trip Across Latin America. Upon further investigation, I discovered this was a documentary charting the band's 2016 tour of that part of the world.
I pressed play...
As the 100-minute piece unfolded I found myself being more and more drawn in by the Paul Dugdale directed film. Once it was over I knew I wanted to watch it again before spilling some ink on what is an excellent piece of work.
At the pre-tour rehearsals the band, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood and Charlie Watts, looked genuinely excited for this tour to begin. It would be their first visit to Latin America in 10 years and viewers later learn that the shows in Uruguay and Peru would be the first time The Stones had played those countries. As if that wasn't enough the band had also set the goal of ending the tour by playing a free show in Havana, Cuba. If it could be arranged they would be the first foreign rock 'n' roll group to ever play there.
The tour began with nine cities confirmed and they hoped Havana would be added at some stage. As the tour was progressing around South America, tour directors, production staff and the Cuban show producer were all working around the clock to convince the Cuban government to sign off on the proposed free gig. This suspenseful element was skilfully woven into the film as every so often we were whisked away from the frenzied South American stadiums for updates on how the application to play Havana was progressing.
The 14 date, 10 city tour opened in Santiago, Chile where the national football stadium, packed with enthusiastic fans welcomed The Stones to Latin America with a passion you don't often see from European audiences. As with all the concert footage in the film, the clips from Santiago showed a crowd of all ages having a great time.
It was then explained that during the 1960s and 70s many Latin American countries were ruled by military dictatorships. This meant that music from foreign territories, especially rock music which wasn't shy about freedom of expression, was effectively banned. The records The Stones were producing at that time fell victim to this - making it very difficult for their fans in Latin America to access their music. The result of this was the band becoming counter-culture superheroes and the development of fiercely loyal fans. Those citizens who had their musical tastes censored stood firm and the result today is a multi-generational fan base whose love for The Rolling Stones runs deep.
The documentary also shows the members of the band enjoying some entertainment unique to the individual countries they visited. From learning about a devoted Argentinian fan group known as 'Rolingas' to Ronnie Wood enjoying taking part in street art in Brazil and Mick Jagger taking in a late night performance by street drummers in Uruguay, the film does a good job displaying the depth of culture that exists all over Latin America.
The film crew seemed to have unlimited access to the rock stars and this results in plenty of short interviews at various locations on the tour. Hearing Mick and Keith reminisce about their first trip to Brazil in 1968 and how they wrote Honky Tonk Women while they were there was the highlight of these quiet, candid moments for me.
Footage of the concerts takes up quite a bit of time in the film so as you can imagine most of The Stones' best-knownb songs can be heard during the documentary. Never a bad thing! There are also plenty of stunning visuals on show, mostly in the form of panoramic camera shots over the cities and stadiums the tour visited.
But would there be a tenth city to photograph for the filmmakers? Yes, there would be.
25 days before showtime the Cuban government gave the event the green light.
In the early part of the film, Mick Jagger stated that it was US President Barack Obama freeing up diplomatic relations with Cuba which gave him the idea of bringing The Rolling Stones to Havana. It was then somewhat ironic when the band had to move the concert back by five days as President Obama announced a state visit to Cuba too close to the originally planned date.
After rocking in huge stadiums in South America and Mexico in the weeks leading up to it, The Stones would conclude this tour in slightly different surroundings. The historic free concert would take place at the Havana Sports Complex - a large, flat piece of land on March 25, 2016.
Perhaps more than anywhere else in the Western world, Cubans faced the harshest punishment for listening to or owning Rolling Stones records in years gone by. They were put in prison. In the lead-up to the concert, a few older locals were filmed remembering how they were thrown in jail just for listening to the music of a band they loved. Going from that to being able to see them perform live was for them, as one gentleman beautifully put it: "an overdose of freedom."
Powerful words but they were backed up by the estimated 500,000 people who turned out to attend the performance. History may very well remember this date as an important step forward for Cuba.
Overall the film stylishly captures the reasons why The Rolling Stones have connected with so many generations of people over the years. It also made me realise why they still tour despite being well into their seventies. It must be impossible to turn your back on that level of adoration from the crowds if you can still get up on stage and put on a performance.
I can't recommend Ole, Ole, Ole! highly enough. It is an entertaining, educational and uplifting viewing experience.
The Rolling Stones famously sing: "I know it's only rock 'n' roll but I like it" - in the context of this film that is doing their craft a disservice.
It may only be rock 'n' roll but in Latin America it gives millions of people hope for a better future. Could anything other than music have that impact on so many?