History of Popular Cuban Music

Popular Cuban Music

Cuban Music finds its roots in Europe and Africa. The two most influential strains of Cuban Popular Music can be roughly categorized into two groups: the Son and the Danzón. The most common Afro-Cuban music in Cuba are Yoruba or Santaria, Abakua, and Palo.

Origins of Danzón

Orquesta la Moderna Tradición specializes in the Danzón and its descendents. The history of the Danzón is an interesting one:

In the late 1700's, after the bloody Haitian revolution, many Haitians and French colonists fled to Cuba. With them came the Contradanza, their European-based popular dance music. Many warm Cuban nights later, Contradanza evolved into Danza, out of which the Danzón was created. Since the late nineteenth century, the Danzón has developed and changed in many respects; however, much of the original structure remains; it is this continuity that continues to define Danzón as a truly unique, living art form.

Evolution of Danzon

The original form of Danzón, created by Miguel Faílde Pérez in 1879, begins with an Introduction (four bars) and Paseo (four bars), which are repeated and followed by a 16-bar melody. The Introduction and Paseo again repeat before a second melody is played. The dancers do not dance during these sections: they choose partners, stroll onto the dance floor, and begin to dance at precisely the same moment: the fourth beat of bar four of the paseo, which has a very distinctive percussion pattern that's hard to miss. When the introduction is repeated the dancers stop, chat, flirt, greet their friends, and start again, right on time as the Paseo finishes.

Incorporation of Son and Cha Cha Cha

Some thirty years later, José Urfé added an Estribillo (a swinging section which consists of a repeated musical phrase) taken from the Son to his El Bombín de Barretto. This piece exemplifies this style of Danzón. Antonio María Romeu incorporated a piano solo into the Estribillo in 1926, in his arrangement of Guillermo Castillo's Son Tres Lindas Cubanas. During the 1950's, the structure developed even further to include all or some of a sung melody, Bolero and Cha-Cha-Chá.

Modern Charanga

Later, ensembles utilizing violins and flute, were playing the popular Guaracha, a fast dance music. In the 1970's Los Van Van popularized a music they called Songo, which mixed elements of Son and Rumba. Timba music follows the same trajectory all Cuban music has taken for the last 300 years, mixing the diverse influences of the island's inhabitants in a way that is uniquely Cuban.

Punto Guajiro

Before there was Son, there was the Punto Guajiro. The Punto Guajiro, with its Andalucian origins, has been evolving in Cuba since the 1700's. The ensemble consists of some combination of guitar, tres, tiple, laúd, clave and guiro. There are two kinds of Punto, Punto Fijo and Punto Libre . Fijo means fixed, meaning rhythm does not stop and the verse and music consists of fixed, measured units. The Punto Libre has a more fluid, slower, and flexible form which follows the singer.

Cuban Trova and Bolero

The Bolero evolved, in the late 1800's, from the traditional Trova of Santiago de Cuba. This beautiful style of music, with its sometimes sophisticated harmonies , came to incorporate popular poetry of the day in its songs. The Cuban bolero (which has almost nothing to do with its Spanish namesake despite its Spanish origins) is played in all sorts of ensembles and is an popular genre throughout Latin-America.

The Cuban Son

The Son Cubano is arguably the most influential musical style to come out of Cuba. Son originated in eastern Cuba, and laid the foundations of the international genre called Salsa. It is a music that incorporates Spanish and African influences. This can be seen in its instrumentation, rhyme scheme, and its call and response form. Early Son was a vocal music accompanied by Tres, Guitar and Maracas. This was followed by a sextet instrumentation using tres, vocals, guitar, bass or marimbula, bongó, maracas, clave — providing the heartbeat of this syncopated music. By the 1920's this instrumentation was augmented with the addition of a trumpet thus creating the standard septeto style. The Son Montuno further incorporated a 3 trumpet horn section, a piano, and a conga drum, or tumbadora, as it is called in Cuba.

More on Cuban Music: Afro-Cuban Roots Music section.