This page will explain the history of Cuban music from the very beginning untill the famous Buena Vista Social Club.
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island of Cuba has been influential in the development of multiple musical
styles in the 19th and 20th centuries. The roots of most Cuban musical
forms lie in the cabildos, a form of social club among African slaves
brought to the island. The cabildos were formed from the Araras, Bantu,
Carabalies, Yorubas, and other civilizations/tribes. Cabildos preserved
African cultural traditions, even after the Emancipation in 1886 forced
them to unite with the Roman Catholic church. At the same time, a religion
called Santería was developing and had soon spread throughout
Cuba, Haiti and other nearby islands. Santería influenced Cuba's
music, as percussion is an inherent part of the religion. Each orisha,
or deity, is associated with colors, emotions, Roman Catholic saints
and drum patterns called toques. By the 20th century, elements of Santería
music had appeared in popular and folk forms.
music has its principal roots in Spain and West Africa, but over time
has been influenced by diverse genres from different countries. Most important
among these are France, the United States, and Jamaica. Reciprocally,
Cuban music has been immensely influential in other countries, contributing
not only to the development of jazz and salsa, but also to Argentinian
tango, Ghanaian high-life, West African Afrobeat, and Spanish "nuevo
flamenco". Cuban music of high quality includes "classical"
music, some with predominantly European influences, and much of it inspired
by both Afro-Cuban and Spanish music. Several Cuban-born composers of
"serious" music have recently received a much-deserved revival.
Within Cuba, there are many popular musicians working in the rock and
The natives of Cuba were the Taíno, Arawak and Ciboney people,
known for a style of music called areito. Large numbers of African slaves
and European immigrants brought their own forms of music to the island.
European dances and folk musics included zapateo, fandango, zampado, retambico
and canción. Later, northern European forms like waltz, minuet,
gavotte and mazurka appeared among urban whites. Fernando Ortíz,
a Cuban folklorist, described Cuba's musical innovations as arising from
the interplay between African slaves settled on large sugar plantations
and Spanish or Canary Islanders who grew tobacco on small farms. The African
slaves and their descendants reconstructed large numbers of percussive
instruments and corresponding rhythms, the most important instruments
being the clave, the congas and batá drums. Chinese immigrants
have contributed the cornetín chino ("Chinese cornet"),
a Chinese wind instrument still played in the comparsas, or carnival groups,
of Santiago de Cuba.
de la Parra's archives give many of our earliest available information
on Cuban music. He reported instruments including the clarinet, violon
and vihuela. There were few professional musicians at the time, and fewer
still of their songs survive. One of the earliest is "La Ma-Teodore",
which is similar to ecclesiastic European forms and 16th century folk
The original guajira was earthy, strident rural acoustic music, possibly
related to Puerto Rican jibaro. It appeared in the early 20th century,
and is led by a 6-string guitar called a tres, known for a distinctive
Música campesina is a rural form of improvised music derived from
a local form of décima and verso called punto. It has been popularized
by artists like Celina González, and has become an important influence
on modern son.
remaining mainly unchanged in its forms (thus provoking a steady decline
in interest among the Cuban youth), some artists have tried to renew música
campesina with new styles, lyrics, themes and arrangements.
Among internationally heralded composers of the "serious" genre
can be counted the Baroque composer Esteban Salas, whose music recently
has been released on a number of CD's. Some consider him the most advanced
composer in the New World at the close of the Eighteenth Century. In the
19th century, several major composers came from Cuba. These included Robredo
Manuel, who helped transform contradanza into a litany of future styles,
Laureano Fuentes, who wrote an opera, Selia, that is still well-remembered,
and Gaspar Villete, who was respected across the Atlantic in Europe. Jose
White, a mulatto of half-Haitian origin, was a violinist of international
merit, much praised in Paris, who also composed a Violin Concerto reminiscent
was Ignacio Cervantes, however, who did the most to assert a sense of
Cuban musical nationalism, using Afro-Cuban and guajiro techniques. Aaron
Copeland once referred to him as a "Cuban Chopin" because of
his Chopinesque piano compositions. Cervantes' nationalistic followers,
who espoused a philosophy called Afrocubanismo, included Alejandro Caturla,
whose music is sometimes redolent of Bartok-mixed-with-Delius, and the
percussion stylist Amadeo Roldán. Caturla and Roldán's music
would be performed in the U.S. and Europe at concerts of Henry Cowell's
Pan-American Association of Composers.
the greatest Cuban musical mind of the Twentieth Century and of all time
was Ernesto Lecuona, whose serious works have earned him the title "the
Cuban Gershwin," and he recently underwent a revival with the release
of at least five CD's covering all of his piano works. Lecuona started
as a child prodigy who later on could compose in his head a la Mozart.
His most famous work is the "Malagueña", part of his
"Spanish Suite" of piano pieces, often erroneously identified
as music of a Spanish composer.
significant composers in need of a revival include Joaquin Nin (often
misindentified as "Spanish") and Gonzalo Roig, who specialized
in orchestrating national themes. After the Cuban Revolution in 1959,
a new crop of classical musicians came onto the scene. The most important
of these is guitarrist Leo Brouwer, who made significant innovations in
classical guitar, and is currently the director of the Havana Symphonic
Orchestra. His directorship in the early 1970s of the Cuban Instititute
of Instrumental and Cinematographic Arts (ICAIC) was instrumental in the
formation and consolidation of the nueva trova movement.
classical pianists include many who have recorded with the world's greatest
symphonies, including Jorge Bolet (friend of Rachmaninoff and Liszt specialist),
Horacio Gutierrez (former Tchaikovsky Competition silver medalist), and
prize-winning pianist and owner of the "Elan" classical CD company,
Santiago Rodriguez, a Russian-music specialist. A number of Cuban concert
pianists still living in Cuba have been recorded on various major music
record labels. Guitarist Manuel Barrueco is considered by some to be the
world's greatest classical guitarist.
The European influence on Cuba's later musical development is most influentially
represented by danzón, which is an elegant dance that became established
in Cuba before being exported to popular acclaim throughout Latin America,
especially Mexico. Its roots lay in European social dances like the English
country dance, French contredanse and Spanish contradanza.
in the 1870s in the region of Matanzas, where African culture remained
strong. It had developed in full by 1879. Played by orquesta tipica, an
informal military marching band, danzóns evolved from the habanera
by incorporating African elements, and were played by artists like Miguel
Failde. Failde added elements from the French contredanse, and laid the
way for future artists like José Urfe, Enrique Jorrín and
Antonio María Romeu
in Cuba: Charanga
Other forms of Cuban folk music include the bolero ballads from Santiago,
and small French creole bands called charangas. Charangas come from Haitian
refugees during the Haitian Revolution (1791), who settled in the Oriente
and established their own style of danzón, forming a kind of cabildo
called the tumba francesa and became known for comparsa, mambo, chachachá
and other kinds of folk music.
Changuí is a rapid form of son from the eastern provinces (Santiago
and Guantánamo, known together as Oriente), and is best exemplified
by Elio Revé. It is unclear how the changuí originated,
and whether it is a precursor to the classical son, but it seems that
the two developed along parallel lines. Changuí is characterised
by its strong emphasis on the downbeat, as well as being fast and very
percussive. While it was Elio Revé who modernised the changuí,
musicians such as Cándido Fabré and more recently Los Dan
Den gave it the contemporary feel it has today. Most importantly Los Van
Van, led by Juan Formell, drew on changuí, adding trombones, synthesizers
and more percussion, to create the songo.
Son is a major genre of Cuban music, and has helped lay the foundation
for most of what came after. It arose in the eastern part of the island,
among Spanish-descended farmers, and is thought to have been derived from
changui, which also merged the Spanish guitar and African rhythms and
to which son is closely related.
characteristics vary widely today, with the defining characteristic a
bass pulse that comes before the downbeat, giving son and its derivatives
(including salsa) its distinctive rhythm; this is known as the anticipated
traditionally concerns itself with themes like love and patriotism, though
more modern artists are socially or politically-oriented. Son lyrics are
typically decima (ten line), octosyllabic verse, and it is performed in
2/4 time. The son clave has both a reverse and forward clave, which differ
in that a forward clave has a three note bar (tresillo), followed by a
two note bar, while the reverse is the opposite.
One of the most vibrant cabildos was the Lukumí, which became known
for batá drums, played traditionally at initiation ceremonies,
and gourd ensembles called abwe. In the 1950s, a collection of Havana-area
batá drummers called Santero helped bring Lucumí styles
into mainstream Cuban music, while artists like Mezcla and Lázaro
Ros melded the style with other forms, including zouk.
Kongo cabildo is known for its use of yuka drums, as well as gallos (a
form of song contest), makuta and mani dances, the latter being closely
related to the Brazilian martial dance capoeira. Yuka drum music eventually
evolved into what is known as rumba, which has become internationally
popular. Rumba bands traditionally use several drums, palitos, claves
and call and response vocals.
Abroad, rumba is primarily thought of as a glitzy ballroom dance, but
its origins are spontaneous, improvised and lively, coming from the dockworkers
of Havana and Matanzas. Percussion (including quinto and tumbadoras drums
and "palitos", or sticks, to play a cáscara rhythm) and
vocal parts (including a leader and a chorus are combined to make a danceable and popular form of music.
word rumba is believed to stem from the verb rumbear, which means something
like to have a good time, party. The rhythm is the most important part
of rumba, which is always music primarily meant for dancing.
are three basic rumba forms, with accompanying dances: columbia, guaguanco
and yambú. The columbia, played in 6/8 time, is generally danced
only by men, often as a solo dance, and is very swift, with aggressive
and acrobatic moves. The guagancó, played in 2/4, is danced with
one man and one woman, and is slower. The dance simulates the man's pursuit
of the woman, and is thus sexually charged. The yambú, known as
"the old people's rumba", is a precursor to the guaguancó
and is played more slowly. Yambú has almost died-out and is played
almost exclusively by folkloric ensembles.