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On March 6, 2016, Major Lazer arrived in Havana on a mission of discovery. Diplomatic ties between Cuba and the U.S. had recently been restored, and the trio was making a tour stop in the country's capital city, becoming one of the first mainstream acts to perform there.
Major Lazer (Diplo, Jillionaire and Walshy Fire) didn't know quite what to expect; a few thousand people in attendance, perhaps. They got half a million.
"I've never seen so many people before in my life," says Walshy Fire, a year later. "We saw it first from the hotel window. None of us had ever seen that many people before. We were awestruck."
That Cuba feeling is captured in "Give Me Future," the Austin Peters-directed documentary that chronicles Major Lazers' Cuba performance. The film will show Tuesday (March 7) as part of the Miami Film Festival, whose schedule includes a plethora of other music-related films, including "Dubfire: Above Ground Level," the documentary that tracks producer/DJ Dubfire, and "I'm Gilda," the bio-pic based on the life of late Argentine cumbia singer Gilda.
Prior to the screening, Billboard spoke with Major Lazer member Walshy Fire about his Cuba experience.
What did you want to accomplish with the documentary?
It's an informational piece. Hopefully it will make people more interested in music and in Cuban culture and the kinds of lives people live outside their own lives. Something that will get people
It was your first time in Cuba. Was it what you expected?
There was nothing that I expected. The first thing all of us noticed was that Cuba was an African country. All of us were immediately, 'Yo, This is not what we see back home.' So we had no clue that Cuba was not Marco Rubio. You get there and everyone is Afro Cuban. And you start to realize 'Where are the blonde, blue eyed Cubans? Oh, they're all in Miami.' To the point, when the tour guide picked us up, and was driving us to the hotel - and he was white -- the first thing he said was, 'As you can see, there are a lot of black people here.' That blew our minds. And the second thing we were all talking about was the undeniable beauty and opulence of what the colonial people had done in Cuba. When you go down to the old city and you see those windows, and you go into someone's house and the floor is marble, the stairs were marble, you realize, these dudes were rich. They were filthy, stinking rich. This is opulence. You realize, man, there are definitely two sides to this. If these guys were rich, super rich, then how was everybody else?
And concert-wise, I know you thought only a few thousand people where going to show up…
I've never seen anything like that. I've never seen so many people before in my life. We saw it first from the hotel window. None of us had ever seen that many people before. We were awestruck. After that, getting onstage and seeing it from that point of view, it was like, s--t, this is way too many people. And the sound only goes so far, so you realize that everything past a certain point they can't see, they can't hear. They just come out because it's something to do. You start to realize this is a major thing. Somebody's coming to the island. I want to take the credit and say, 'Yo, its Major Lazer, but no.' Anybody who comes out, it's something to do. So you put anybody out on the stage and easily 50 to 60,000 people show up.
Did you get a lot of flak for doing the show?
Me and Wes went to Venezuela by ourselves and did a Major Lazer show there and got the same kind of flak. We realized the Cubans and Venezuelans who have an issue are expats. I want to say almost 100% Cubans who get mad at you are Cubans who live in Miami. And they all live comfortably in Miami. They can all go online and tell you what happened to your grandfather. In Cuba it's a totally different thing. They can't wait for you to come. They're energized, they love your music, they want to see something new.
On a personal level, how did you like Cuba?
I have tons of stories of walking in the streets and people walking up to you and dancing with you. I literally had dinner in some strangers' house. That's what I considered Cuba to be…the most loving place I've ever been in my life. And the fact that there's no crime. You walk in the street at any time and you feel like nothing is going to happen.
You've played in all kinds of unusual locations, including, as you've mentioned, Venezuela, and also many African countries. What is the impetus behind those concerts?
Simply that the people there wanted us to come and love what we're doing, just like anywhere else in the world. There wasn't any other kind of thought process. We didn't single out Venezuela or Cuba. No one asks why we went to Argentina three times.
So, you're saying the decision has nothing to do with politics?
No, it doesn't. And I grew up in Miami and I have millions of Cuban friends. It has nothing to do with politics. It has nothing to do with bad energy. There is not one country in this planet where Major Lazer doesn't want to perform.
Going back to Cuba, what was the impact of the show?
I don't know how to gage that. Hopefully we raised awareness to people who are not Cuban and didn't have Cuba on their radar as a place to go visit. And hopefully the people that are living in Cuba are inspired to create and to become more a part of the global musical community.
Finally, tell me a little about your work with Michael Brun in Haiti with Beat Making Lab?
Oh, that's so cool. We bring equipment and we sort instructors on the ground to teach some of the poor communities how to use the equipment. The equipment stays there, the instructors stay there, and they teach classes and before we leave, all the students have to learn to make a song. Then we shoot videos of the song, we try to get their songs on the radio and we use them as teachers for the next generation. I've been a part of Beat Making Lab maybe four or five years. It's an excellent charity and I'm so proud to be a part of it.