It's only rock'n'roll - Stones in Cuba

Hundreds of thousands of Cubans have gathered for a free Rolling Stones concert in what's seen as another pivotal event for the formerly isolated communist nation.

The Stones kicked off their first-ever show in Cuba with "Jumpin' Jack Flash".

The hit song was first recorded in 1968, when Cuban rock fans were secretly sharing pirated vinyl records and risked being sent to rural work brigades to cure "ideological deviation".

It was followed by "It's Only Rock 'n Roll (But I Like It)," which could have carried extra meaning for Cuban fans who once faced discrimination for their musical tastes.

The concert came after an historic visit to Cuba by United States President Barack Obama.

Until about 15 years ago, Cuba's communist government banned most Western rock and pop music because it was deemed decadent and subversive.

But Cuba has changed significantly in recent years, particularly in the past 18 months, as the process of rapprochement with the United States has quickened.

Fans started gathering 18 hours before the concert at Havana's Ciudad Deportiva (Sports City) venue, including Cubans who had travelled from across the Caribbean's largest island and foreigners who flew in for the occasion.

"I love Mike Jagger so much. I've always dreamed about this. I couldn't sleep knowing he would be here," said hospital cleaner Angela Menendez.

Fans described the concert as an historic moment.

"It was forbidden. We couldn't have the Beatles or some singers from Latin America. Now we are allowed to hear what we want to hear," one fan said.

People were dressed in all manner of jeans, T-shirts and boots with the Stones' tongue and lips logo.

But noticeably absent were would-be entrepreneurs selling T-shirts or memorabilia.

The Stones formed in London in 1962, just three years after Fidel Castro and his fellow rebels toppled a pro-American government.

Castro's revolutionary government came to see counterculture bands such as the Rolling Stones and the Beatles as dangerously subversive and prohibited their music on TV and radio.

Half a century later, both the Rolling Stones and Cuba's leadership share a longevity, performing well beyond what most people would consider retirement age.

"Time changes everything. So we're very pleased to be here," Jagger, 72, told reporters on his arrival at Havana airport.

"It would have been surprising for this to happen 10 years ago," he added.

For Cuban Juan Carlos Leon, 57, the event was more than special.

"To me, this is a consecration," Leon said as nearby fans broke into their own a cappella version of the band's "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction."

"I've waited my whole life for this. The Stones are the greatest."

"The visit from Obama [earlier this week], and now the Rolling Stones. It's just unique and historic. So, yeah, nice to be here," said one fan.

The Rolling Stones released a short video saying their concert was a sign of change in Cuba.

At least a million people were expected to watch the British band's first concert in Cuba.