The Cuban culture is a mixture of Spanish and African traditions. Spanish guitars, melodies and music formulas brought by Spanish colonizers are accompanied by rhythms and percussion instruments that are used in Africa. The latter was contributed by Africans who were brought to Cuba as slaves. This excellent combination gives the Cuban music unique forms which include the son, mambo, and rumba. The word rumba came from the verb rumbear meaning “to have a good time or party”.
The most vital part of rumba is the musical spontaneous and lively rhythm that is associated with dancing and is basically in quick-quick-slow in 4/4 meter rhythm. It is also often referred to as Afro-Cuban since the beat that begins the rhythm called “clave” came from Africa. In the late 19th century, Cuban Rumba emerged particularly in the ports of Havana and Mantanzas, and further flourished throughout Cuba especially in lower-class, urban black communities as informal, street dance type music (Daniel 1).
In 1930 through the early 1960, this dance-music further spread in America and Europe. Rumba is considered as Cuba’s national dance music further influenced by countless of Latin music styles throughout the world. Cuban Rumba is party music that is thought to come from the suburbs when slavery was abolished in 1886. Cuban rumba has three basic forms: Rumba Guaguanco, Rumba Yambu, and Rumba Columbia. The Yambu, also known as the “Old People’s Rumba”, is the oldest known style of Cuban Rumba and employs the slowest beat among the three basic styles.
Yambu incorporates movements feigning frailty but usually played only by folkloric ensembles and, thus, almost died-out. The Guaguanco, on the other hand, is the most popular style. It is a type of dance music that combines African and Cuban influences and is characterized by more complex rhythms, generally faster than Yambu and played in 2/4 time. An example of rhythm often used in Guaguanco is the “martillo (“hammer”) rhythm. The last form is the Columbia, which is used to be danced with very swift, aggressive, creative, and acrobatic moves and played in 6/8 time.
It is fast, more energetic and often in tandem with a 6/8 beat struck on a bell or a hoe (Roots of Rhythm 19). It is believed that the Columbia started from the inner Cuba, unlike the two latter types of Cuban Rumba style that are said to emerge from larger cities. Columbia style employs drum patterns similar to the chants of the religious Cuban Abakua traditions. This was according to famous Cuban Rumba specialist Gregorio ‘el Goyo’ Hernandez who became famous for his album “La Rumba Es Cubana: Su Historia”.
The ascara’ or ‘palito’ Columbia rhythm is actually, according Hernandez, is similar to the Abakua chants that is played using the ‘erikundi’ or rattles filled with beans. Not only the rhythm but the drum patterns as well of the lowest conga drum of Rumba Columbia are associated with the said chants. However, Cuban Rumba is not religious in its performance context (Roots of Rhythm 19). Musical instruments used in Cuban music include the guitar, trumpet, flute, bass, and piano. Percussion instruments, however, are primarily used in Cuban music, rumba in particular.
Three conga drums (“quinto” being the smallest and high-pitched drum, middle-register “macho”, and large-sized lowest-pitched “hembra”) collectively known as the “tumbadora”, a pair of thin sticks called “palitos” used to hit the side of the conga drum, a cowbell or “cencerro”, a scraper or “guiro”, two metallic open ended shallow drums called “timbales”, two, thick sticks known as the claves, and two, small conical or cylindrical single-headed drums called “bongos” played with hands and fingers, comprise the percussion section. Cuba’s musical instruments were influenced by West African ideas.
However, home-made musical instruments, pots, bottles, frying pans, and spoons, for example, are being used in Cuban taverns. Folkloric groups present Cuban music, as well as dance, however, the original context of impulsive street gatherings is rarely performed nowadays. One of the legendary Cuban Rumba performers is Luciano (Chano) Pozo. He played sacred rhythms using drums, and sings abakuas and yorubas tunes. Today, Cuban Rumba is still being played specially in various gatherings and parties often improvised and spontaneous.
One of Cuba’s top folkloric groups who work to preserve and promote rumba as a national culture of Cuba, the Rumberos de Cuba, still performs the Cuban Rumba music, rhythms and dance from Yoruba music and Afro-Cuban traditions. They play the rhythm called the “cascara” using percussion instruments such as “quinto” and “tamboras” drums, as well as “palitos”. To play a more danceable and popular form of music, vocal parts with leader and a chorus, accompanies the rhythm. The vocal section consists of a lead singer and a chorus. The soloist called “Diana” begins the Cuban Rumba song with nonsense or meaningless syllables.
Improvised lyrics normally in Spanish may then proceed which usually states the reason of holding the present Rumba (“decimar”) which lasted usually to make ten-line stanzas. Lyrics may be about love, life in the barrio, and political themes. Tunes of a fixed song such as the “Ave Maria Morena” , “Llora Como Llore”, “Cuba Linda, Cuba Hermosa”, and “Malanga (Murio)” may also be used instead. The vocal section then ends with the call-and-response montuno. Many rock and roll artists, such as Bo Diddley, became famous for using the clave rhythm in the early 1950s and still continues today.
Also in 1991, Gloria Estefan used the clave beat for Rumba Guaguanco in her song “Mi Tierra” (Roots of Rhythm 19). For many years, the Cuban Rumba is a significant part of the cultural heritage of the world. In its primary forms, the Cuban Rumba traveled around the world and is being adapted by many nations, but still its catchy and sensual rhythms still identifies the Cuban nation. Works Cited Daniel, Yvonne P. “Changing Values in Cuban Rumba, A Lower Class Black Dance Appropriated by the Cuban Revolution”.
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