Q&A: Diplo on historic concert in Cuba, Rihanna and Bieber

This Nov. 17, 2017 photo shows EDM star Diplo posing for a portrait session in Los Angeles. In March 2016, the Grammy-winning producer-DJ and his trio Major Lazer became one of the first American acts to take advantage of easing travel restrictions by staging a free concert in Havana, which is the subject of his new documentary on Apple Music. (Photo by Willy Sanjuan/Invision/AP)

LOS ANGELES (The Associated Press)  — Globe-trotting EDM star Diplo recently checked another locale off his performance wish-list: Cuba.

In March 2016, the Grammy-winning producer-DJ and his trio Major Lazer became one of the first American acts to take advantage of easing travel restrictions by staging a free concert in Havana.

“I’m always looking at like where is music happening? How can I be a part of it? How can I help it? How can I introduce something to it? And it’s easy for anybody to do that, you know, you just have to have a little bit of adventure,” said Diplo, who has also performed in Nigeria, Nepal and Pakistan.

But pulling off the historic show in front of the United States Embassy was no easy task.

“The Cuban side took a lot of wrangling,” explained the hitmaker behind “Lean On” and “Where Are U Now” with Skrillex and Justin Bieber. “My team, my management, the producers of the event, they spent about 16 to 18 months planning it, procuring the event space, making it all right with both sides of the government.”

The extraordinary performance, along with Cuba’s youth culture and music scene, is documented in the film “Give Me Future.” It premiered on Apple Music last week.

Earlier this month the Trump administration imposed travel and commerce restrictions on Cuba that will make it harder for Americans to visit the island nation. The stricter rules mark a return to the tougher U.S. stance toward Cuba that existed before former President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro restored diplomatic relations in 2015.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Diplo talks about traveling around the world and his hopes to perform in Cuba again.

AP: Does the change in travel sanctions make it even more special that you got in when you could?

Diplo: In fact we tried to go and set up another kind of event next month, but we were in the process of pulling the trigger on that, and then the reversal of a lot of those rules came down in the last 10 days. So yeah, it’s not cool, but you know, it changes back-and-forth almost every presidency so we’ll see if it switches up again.

AP: Was Cuba one of the hardest gigs to pull off?

Diplo: Production-wise … we’re talking about four barricades for almost half a million people. And these barricades were just dragged out of some storage and painted white the day of the show. So I couldn’t believe it was all handled and put together and everybody was safe and the concert went with no problems.

I traveled from Pakistan a few days before the show in Cuba. We had been to Bangladesh last year. We did a whole tour in Africa. So we did shows everywhere from Nigeria to Uganda. But this was definitely the biggest and the craziest situation.

I did a show in Mongolia about two, three years ago and that was one of the wildest places to play. …No one knew who I was when I did the show. They just kind of were confused and all showed up.

AP: What’s left on your travel bucket list?

Diplo: We had a show in North Korea that was booked. And it’s funny, the actual club in North Korea, it’s called The Diplo. So it would’ve been a really cool show to do but that got pulled. That situation has sort of been deteriorating over the last two years.

I actually wanted to go to Papua New Guinea earlier last year … but we couldn’t find any place safe even to stay so we skipped that show. I’m ready. If anyone’s in Papua New Guinea, hit me on my pager or contact my management and I’ll come.

AP: Any plans to work with Rihanna? Did she really compare your song to airport reggae?

Diplo: I thought it was a really funny story … She’s such a good person. She’s a good sport and I know her personally. …Every time she’s working or writing an album I’m always kind of involved, sending records and demos and, you know, sometimes they like something and sometimes they don’t. But you never know. For me, I’m just happy making my own records too. …I’m not always looking to have a big pop star on my records. You don’t need them either, to be honest.

We’re working on a couple ideas actually with (Rihanna’s) team right now so we’ll see. But you never want to say you’re going to get anything because it’s always going to be a sad story at the end of the day.

AP: How about a Bieber reunion?

Diplo: I would love to. Sometimes we trade text messages. They’re always pretty weird. I don’t know. He’s a fascinating kid and to be honest, he’s so good at everything he does — whether it’s playing sports or playing guitar. I mean, he can make anything great. I love the guy. …For me, he’s just kind of a cultural icon so anytime I get a chance to do something like that — even with Madonna or working with Beyonce — anytime I get the opportunity, I’d love to try something. But it doesn’t always work out. I’m just happy to make music in general with anybody.

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