Wednesday, July 15, 2009


Although the birth of Son can not be accurately placed historically, according to some informants it seem to be the nineteenth century. From the geographical point of view Son was born in rural areas of eastern provinces near Guantánamo, Baracoa, Manzanillo and Santiago de Cuba.

Poor former slaves, who cultivated a plot of land in mountainous areas, were called montunos. They lived in palm-built houses called Bohios. Montunos played three stringed instrument called tres. With tres they played rustic instruments called maracas and taborets. Little by little were introduced instruments like bongo, marímbula or botija, güíro or guayo and guitar.

Deceased singer of Changüí de Guantánamo, Cambrón, told me, that in first Changüí groups they had botija as bass instrument and later marímbula took its place. video

At first glance Cuban tres seems to associate with the tradition of Hispanic background, because it looks like a little guitar with three double strings. But if you analyze its rhythmic and melody-harmonic function, you will find African, especially Bantu background. Tres is a fundamental instrument in Son. When the Son groups were modernized piano took the place of tres in the Son conjuntos.

Nengón is one of the oldest primary forms of Son. Nengón was born in mountain areas of Baracoa, Cuba’s first city, in extreme eastern Cuba. video

Kiribá is an other example of oldest forms of Son. As the Nengón it is a music style and also a party with the same name.

Changüí was born in the mountainous territory of Yateras in the province of Guantanamo. As Nengón and Kiribá it’s a music style and a party with the same name. video

Son-montuno developed in different parts of Oriente in mountainous regions. video
In early 1900s Son came from eastern parts of Cuba to Havana. In 1920 was founded first sexteto configuration called Sexteto Habanero. The band became popular and many bands imitated their style to play Son. Sexteto format utilized tres, guitar, botija or marímbula or string bass, bongos, claves and maracas. In 1927 Sexteto Nacional augmented the format with trumpet. The new format was called Septeto. video

In 1940 blind tres-player Arsenio Rodríquez augmented the format with piano, two trumpets and tumbadora. New format was called Conjunto. video

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


In the Cuban rumba culture integrate undoubtedly elements from African cultures. It’s music for fun and entertainment. Rumba is rather than dancing and singing, a kind of festival created by Africans and their descendants in Cuba including the presence of white people who shared with them in the lowest class of colonial society. Rumba has both African and Hispanic elements.

The cajón is an instrument of Cuban rumba. The date of its appearance is in the last decades of the nineteenth century. In the Cuban rumba they used boxes of candles for quinto and cod crates for tumbadora. Along with the boxes were played different kind of furniture and other household utensils like stools, drawers, spoons and bottles.

The tumbadora (conga drum) is maybe the most important and best known Cuban membranophone. The origin of tumbadora has strong Bantu influence, but its history reflects the synthesis of various types of drums of African origin like ngoma and makuta drums. The history of tumbadora is associated with the development of conga and rumba music and dance styles. In rumba group they use normally three tumbadoras with lot of variations in their names: the largest one is known as salidor or tumbadora; the medium-sized is called tres dos, tres golpes or un golpe; and the smallest one is called quinto. The Rumba instrumental ensemble consist also claves and cajita china or catá.

Rumba styles with great antiquity called rumbas de tiempo’España are highly mimetic dances. It begins with a brief part of singing with the singer alone. After this part singer gives entrance to the choir and the band and begins improvising new texts alternating with the choir. This part is called Capetillo. Mamá’buela is one of the rumbas de tiempo’España, where the dancers make mimetic gestures of a boy who doesn’t want to go to school, and grandmother who is nagging and beating the boy. video

Yambú is one of the oldest subspecies of rumba. It is slow and elegant type of rumba, where the dancers sometimes imitate old age and difficulty of movements. The part of the song is short and it is preceded sometimes with a hum or lalaleo, called diana, which serves as preparation for entry of the choir. Yambú was born in the solares of Matanzas and Havana. video

Guaguancó is maybe the most popular type of rumba. In the initial part of guaguancó the singer after Diana tells singing a long story about an event or person. After this part singer gives entrance to the choir. Guaguancó is more figurative and faster than yambú. Guaguancó dance is an erotic play between man and a woman. The man is trying to make a gesture called vacunao (pelvic thrust) in the moment, when the woman isn’t enough alert to cover her with her hands, skirt or scarf. This dance has similarities with the dance called Yuka of Bantú origin. Guaguancó was born in the same environment as yambú. video

Rumba Columbia is the rumba style, which have most African influences. It was born in the rural areas of Matanzas. Today it is mostly virtuosic solo dance of men. In the rumba Columbia singer may use words of Palero vocabulary or words in yoruba or Abakuá languages that are used in Cuba. The rhythm of rumba Columbia is more figurative and fast than in yambú and guaguancó. The dance is executed by a man who dances with acrobatic gestures or imitating for example a cripple, an epileptic or a bullfighter. The dancer establishes a dialogue with the drummer who plays the quinto. video

Sunday, July 12, 2009


The Chinese coolies came to Cuba in the mid-nineteenth century. 150 000 Chinese were brought to Cuba and scattered in the areas of sugar industry of Havana and Matanzas. Many of the coolies were kidnapped or decoyed in their homeland. On their voyage to Cuba the mortality were over 10 percent (28 percent mortality on the first ships arriving to Cuba), when with African slaves it was between 2-5 percent. On their arrival to Cuba many of the coolies were sold into slavery.

The conditions of the contract were hard for the emigrants. They were pledged to work for eight years, must repay the cost of their ticket and all other costs incurred by the migration. Coolie thus became subject to exploitation. The material situation of the Chinese immigrants was even worse than the African slaves.

Corneta china is Asiatic instrument introduced in Cuba by the many Chinese groups arrived in Cuba in colonial times. Its original location was in the Chinese district of the city of Havana. Around 1910 corneta china was taken to Santiago de Cuba with congas and comparsas from Havana and Matanzas by soldiers of “ejército permanente”. Since then it has remained as a major element in congas of Santiago de Cuba. video

Saturday, July 11, 2009


Spanish colonists, who participated in the discovery and conquest of Cuba, came mainly from Castilla, León, Asturias, Andalusia and Extremadura, where they lived in very poor conditions. The immigration from Canary Islands is very important, because they form part of the background of the peasant culture.

In the nineteenth century Cuban peasants developed singing and dancing style called zapateo cubano, which has its origin in Spain, to its Cuban form. It was accompanied with tiple and the singer improvised in décima, ten-line stanza of poetry. Tiple had five double strings and very sharp sound.

The bandurria is with tiple and laúd (lute) part of the same family of instruments. Nowadays laúd is the most popular of this family.

In the actual groups of música campesina (peasant music) laúd is accompanied with other cord instruments in different combinations like: laúd, tres and guitar, laúd and two guitars, laúd and tres. Other instruments which may be part of the group are: claves, güíro (or guayo) bongó, tumbadora and bass (or marímbula). Sometimes they have also other instruments like trumpets in the group.

In the Cuban música campesina called Punto there are two stylistic areas: one is the western regions of the Cuba: Pinar del Río, Havana and Matanzas, and the other is the provinces of Camagüey and Las Villas.

In the western regions style the rhythm is free following the singer’s improvisation of décimas. The style is called Punto Libre. video

In the provinces of Camagüey y Las Villas Punto is called Punto Fijo. In this style the singer intones his tonadas with a regular and constant rhythm.

French immigrants came to Cuba, mainly from Haiti since the last decade of the eighteenth century to the early nineteenth century. They moved mostly to the eastern part of Cuba. One of the reasons for the migration toward Cuba was the slave insurrections in Haiti.

The total number of French immigrants and French of Haiti both slaves and owners was approximately 30 000. Majority of them were located in eastern part of Cuba: especially in Santiago de Cuba, Baracoa and Guantánamo. The immigrants of Louisiana and New Orleans also participated in the incorporation of French influence in Cuban culture.

Contradanza spread in the late 1700s from Santiago de Cuba to whole Cuba. Contradanza received African influences already in Haiti and in Cuba it evolved with more Afro-Cuban influences from improvising musicians, who mostly were black or mulattos. Contradanza were performed with orquesta tipica Cubana, which included cornet, trumpet, ophicleide, two clarinets, two violins, double bass, timbales and güíro. In the early 1900s orquesta típica developed to charanga francesa, which originally included flute, violin, piano, bass, timbal or paila. Later was added tumbadora (conga), two violins and three singers. video

Tumba Francesa is a musical and dance expression of slave or free blacks, who arrived in Cuba from Haiti. It has elements of African and European antecedents, specifically from Arará, Bantu and French background.

Percussion instruments to accompany songs and dances of Tumba Francesa are called: redublé or premier, secónd, bulá or bebé, catá and tambora. The names of the dances are: Babú, Grasimá, Jubá and Masón.

Nowadays Tumba Francesa can be heard only in Santiago de Cuba and Guantanamo. video

Wednesday, July 8, 2009


The import of slaves first from the neighbouring island La Española (Santo Domingo) and then from Africa to Cuba began in 1515. The importation of slaves continued until the year 1873. Slavery represented various ethnic groups: Yoruba speaking cultures of the current Nigeria territory, Bantu speaking cultures from Congo River region and other ethnic groups including Arará and Carabalí cultures.

It might be that two enslaved Africans, Juan Garrido and Juan Cortes arrived in America and Cuba even before 1515. In 1522 300 African slaves were imported to Santiago de Cuba. African slaves were imported to Cuba to replace enslaved Aboriginals, who were virtually exterminated in the early days of colonization.

Periods African slaves brought to Cuba
1764-1790 33 400
1791-1820 281 600
1821-1827 39 900
1828-1841 179 900
1842-1861 137 000
1862-1873 84 000
(Guanche, J. 1983. Procesos etnoculturales de Cuba. Ciudad de la Habana: Editorial Letras Cubanas.)

In some cases to the African slaves were allowed to play drums and also allowed the grouping of companies in the form of relief, so-called cabildos. Even within the barracón Africans were allowed to have their holidays, and apparently also have their saints.

The origin of the famous carnivals in Santiago de Cuba are in fiestas de cabildos known as fiestas de mamarrachos, Mamarrachos were held on June 24 (St. John’s [Midsummer] Day), June 29 (St. Peter’s Day), July 24 (St. Christine’s Day), July 25 (St. James the Apostle’s Day) and July 26 (St. Anne’s Day). The origin of carnival in Havana is Dia de los Reyes, or Epiphany (January 6).


The ethnic group of the greatest cultural dominance in Cuba is by the ethnic name Lucumí or Yoruba from west of the Niger river. Yoruba-speaking ethnic subgroups are Egguadó, Iyesá, Eyó or Oyó, Enquel, Epa, Iechas, Tacuá, Nagos, among others.

The Batá drums are the most important in the music of Afro-Cuban Santeria (Regla de Ocha) religion of Lucumí or Yoruba ethnic background, with some differences in the ways of implementation between Havana and Matanzas. The three Batá drums okónkolo, itótele and iyá, are religious in nature. In Cuba Batá drums are used in cults of all orichas or deities in Santería religion, even though it recognizes the vital relationship of those with Changó. Changó is deity of thunder, music, dance and entertainment. Video

Bembé is the name applied to a party to cheer the pantheon of gods or orichas on the Regla de Ocha. The instrumental ensemble of Bembé is currently characterized by its heterogeneity and the use of other drums like the tumbadora and the bocú. Video


Africans called Congos in Cuba were originated from the Bantu area extending from the mouth of the Congo River. Bantu-speaking Congo ethnic subgroups: Loango, Bafiote (Bavili) Bacongo, Mayombe, Mondongo. Angola, Angunga or Congo reales, Biringoyo, Bosongo, Bangame, Cubenda or Cabinda, Motembo, Mumboma, Musundi, Mumbala, Masinga, Banguela, Munyaca, Musungo, Mundamba, Musoso, Entótera, Embuyla, Loanda, Matumba, Mobanque, Mombasa, Musabela.

The Regla (norm or rule) Conga known in Cuba as Palo Monte comes from the Bantu area in West Africa. Palo Monte religion is based on the cult of the Nganga or container containing various minerals, plants and animals, which symbolized the forces of nature concentrated on an object.

The instrumental arsenal is diverse in Congo ethnic subgroups, which have enabled major changes in their uses and names.

During the second half of the nineteenth century and early twentieth centuries Yuka was the best known music and dance of Bantu origin from central-western Cuba. The names of individual Yuka drums come both from the Bantu languages and the Spanish. The largest drum is known as caja or yuka. In a very small area of Pinar del Río they also use the name tajona. The medium drum is called mula, llamador or dos golpes and the smallest as cachimba, tumbador, llamador, tercero, repicador or un golpe. In the instrumental ensemble of Yuka the role of metallic sound comes from agricultural tools like guataca (hoe) or cowbell. They also have coco or guagua, which means the habit to play with two sticks on the wooden surface of one of the drums. Yuka drums accompany a dance also called Yuka. In Yuka dance man is chasing the woman to perform pelvic thrust with same kind of gesture as vacunao in guaguancó (rumba).

In the nineteenth century until the first half of the twentieth century Makuta drums abounded in the Centre-West region of Cuba. The Makuta instrumental ensemble consists two makuta drums, one idiophone of wood (guagua) (most often the players strike with one or two sticks on the surface of the Makuta drums) or metal (guataca) and a pair of small shaking idiophones. The biggest Makuta drum is called caja, ngoma or nsumbi. The other Makuta drum is called kimbandu, kimbanso, llamador, abridor or bombo.

In Cuba the presence of Kinfuiti spread throughout the western region of the island during the nineteenth and early decades of the twentieth century. The only actually active cult with Kinfuiti drum can be found in Quiebra Hacha, Mariel, Havana.

Along with ékue the kinfuiti is one of the two examples of friction percussion instruments in Cuban folkloric music. Kinfuiti means the drum, its music and dance venerating the image of San Antonio de Padua or Ta Makuende Yaya. Kinfuiti instrumental ensemble in Quiebra Hacha consists a kinfuiti drum, three ngoma drums, guataca and maracas.


Slaves of the Carabali ethnic group were imported from the eastern part of the Niger from the old Calabar. Carabalí ethnic subgroups: Efik, Ibó, Ibibio, Bibi, Apapá, Abalos, Abaya or Abad-ya, Acocuá, Berun, Brass, Bricamo, Briche, Elugo, Hatan, Isiegue, Suama or Isuama.

The members of cabildo Appapá Carabalí founded the first Abakuá potencia, juego or plante (generic name given to each society) Efik-Butón in 1836. It was composed of slaves and free blacks in the neighbourhood of Belén in Havana. The Abakuá potencia’s main purpose was the protection and mutual assistance of its members and the preservation of the cultural traditions of their areas of origin. From the first moment, the Abakuá potencies were secret, because they were persecuted by the colonial authorities. The Abakuá potencies membership was allowed for men only.

The instrumental ensemble biankomeko is the most important example of the Carabalí influence in Cuban folkloric music. This kind of instrumental ensembles of religious Abakuá potencies extended since the beginning of the nineteenth century to the port areas of Havana and Matanzas.

The drum in the biankomeko group is called enkomo which means little speaking drum in efik-language and is usually applied to the three smallest ones, while the largest is known as bonkó enchemiyá. The small enkomo drums are obi apá, kuchi yeremá and biankomé. The biankomeko instrumental ensemble consist also ekón or the cowbell, itones (the player strikes two sticks on the surface of the bonkó enchemiyá) and erikundi (two woven maracas). Video


Slaves of the Arará ethnic group were imported from the center and south of Benin (formerly Dahomey), from ethnic integration ewe-fon. In Cuba they were called Arará. Arará ethnic subgroups: Arará magino, cuévano, sabalú, dajome, agicón, neaeve.

The first Cabildo Arará magino was founded in Havana in the seventeenth century. In the nineteenth century many Arará cabildos were formalized in major cities like in Matanzas, Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba.

In Cuba there is a great diversity in the names of the individual Arará drums. In common use are the names caja, mula and cachimbo, which are same as the names of Yuka drums. The major Arará drum is also called asojún, junga or ojún dajó. The smaller ones are called with diverse names like yonofó, aplintí, güegüe, klokló, akuebí, junguedde, juncito and jun. The Arará instrumental ensemble consist also ogán or guataca and acheré (cheré) rattles.


Slaves of the Mandé ethnic group (in Cuba Mandingo and Gangá) were imported from area what is today the Republics of Guinea and Sierra Leone. Gangá ethnic subgroups: Gangá arriero, fay, bombalit, ñadejuna, taveforú, gorá, bucheg, bromú, conó, cramo, longobá, maní, quisi o kissi, susu.

The original names of these Gangá drums have been lost. Actually they are called from lowest to highest as caja, salidor or mula and cachimbo or segundo. The Gangá instrumental ensemble consist also guataca or cowbell and two acheré rattles.


Slaves of the Ashanti (in Cuba Mina) ethnic group were imported from the former Gold Coast (now Ghana). Ashanti ethnic subgroups: Mina Popo and Mina Fanti.


Macuá ethnic group is the only indication of eastern Africa in Cuba. Slaves of the Macuá ethnic group were imported from the northern part of the Zambezi River, in the present Republic of Mozambique.