Cuban folk music

Last updated
Music of Cuba
General topics
Related articles
Specific forms
Religious music
Traditional music
Media and performance
Music awards Beny Moré Award
Nationalistic and patriotic songs
National anthem La Bayamesa
Regional music

Cuban folk music includes a variety of traditional folk music of Cuba, and has been influenced by the Spanish and the African culture as well as the remaining indigenous population of the Caribbean.

Folk music musical and poetic creativity of the people

Folk music includes traditional folk music and the genre that evolved from it during the 20th-century folk revival. Some types of folk music may be called world music. Traditional folk music has been defined in several ways: as music transmitted orally, music with unknown composers, or music performed by custom over a long period of time. It has been contrasted with commercial and classical styles. The term originated in the 19th century, but folk music extends beyond that.

Cuba Country in the Caribbean

Cuba, officially the Republic of Cuba, is a country comprising the island of Cuba as well as Isla de la Juventud and several minor archipelagos. Cuba is located in the northern Caribbean where the Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean meet. It is east of the Yucatán Peninsula (Mexico), south of both the U.S. state of Florida and the Bahamas, west of Haiti and north of both Jamaica and the Cayman Islands. Havana is the largest city and capital; other major cities include Santiago de Cuba and Camagüey. The area of the Republic of Cuba is 110,860 square kilometres (42,800 sq mi). The island of Cuba is the largest island in Cuba and in the Caribbean, with an area of 105,006 square kilometres (40,543 sq mi), and the second-most populous after Hispaniola, with over 11 million inhabitants.

Caribbean region to the center-east of America composed of many islands and of coastal regions of continental countries surrounding the Caribbean Sea

The Caribbean is a region of The Americas that consists of the Caribbean Sea, its islands and the surrounding coasts. The region is southeast of the Gulf of Mexico and the North American mainland, east of Central America, and north of South America.


Classification of genres

During the 1960s, a methodological organization was consistently applied to the Cuban popular music; and that methodology, called of the "generic complexes" was mainly based on the works of Cuban musicologist Argeliers León. In his book Del canto y el tiempo, León divided the study of Cuban popular music in several sections presented in the following order: Música yoruba, Música bantú, Música abakuá, Música guajira, El son, La rumba, La guaracha, La canción y el bolero, Música instrumental, De la contradanza al danzón, al chachachá and Hacia el presente, en el presente.

Dr. Olavo Alén says about the "generic complex system": "In his book Música Folklórica Cubana as well as in his opus masterpiece Del canto y el tiempo, he (León) shows us a panoramic view of our music departing fundamentally from the description of the original genres of Cuba. But those divisions proposed by Argeliers didn't pretend to be as rigorous as a scientific organization that would be in compliance with the classificatory principles of coherence, exclusivity, exhaustivity and most importantly, dychotomy." [1]

According to the Cuban popular music "Generic complex theory", Cuban folk music is classified as follows:

The term rumba may refer to a variety of unrelated music styles. Originally, "rumba" was used as a synonym for "party" in northern Cuba, and by the late 19th century it was used to denote the complex of secular music styles known as Cuban rumba. Since the early 20th century the term has been used in different countries to refer to distinct styles of music and dance, most of which are only tangentially related to the original Cuban rumba, if at all. The vague etymological origin of the term rumba, as well as its interchangeable use with guaracha in settings such as bufo theatre, is largely responsible for such worldwide polysemy of the term. In addition, "rumba" was the primary marketing term for Cuban music in North America, as well as West and Central Africa, during much of the 20th century, before the rise of mambo, pachanga and salsa.

Guaguancó is a subgenre of Cuban rumba, combining percussion, voices, and dance. There are two main styles: Havana and Matanzas.

Conga Cuban drum

The conga, also known as tumbadora, is a tall, narrow, single-headed drum from Cuba. Congas are staved like barrels and classified into three types: quinto, tres dos or tres golpes (middle), and tumba or salidor (lowest). Congas were originally used in Afro-Cuban music genres such as conga and rumba, where each drummer would play a single drum. Following numerous innovations in conga drumming and construction during the mid-20th century, as well as its internationalization, it became increasingly common for drummers to play two or three drums. Congas have become a popular instrument in many forms of Latin music such as son, descarga, Afro-Cuban jazz, salsa, songo, merengue and Latin rock.

The "Generic complex theory" has been refuted since long time ago by renowned musicologists such as Leonardo Acosta, which explains in his article titled "About the Generic Complexes and other matters": [3]

Fortunately, the theology [sic.] of the generic complexes has been viewed with skepticism within the musicology circles from various countries, including Cuba, where some musicologists have oscillated between rejection, skepticism and depise…

According to Cuban composer and musicographist Armando Rodríguez Ruidíaz: [4]

Armando Rodríguez Ruidíaz composer

Armando Rodríguez Ruidíaz is a Cuban composer, guitarist, professor and bagpiper.

Autochthonous Cuban popular music is indeed similar to a macroorganism in which all its components descend from a common origin and are related, in one way or another, through its entire evolutionary process, which is shown as the development of a formal and stylistic primeval prototype; the common ancestor of all posterior generic forms…

…the Spanish song-dances of sesquiáltera (hemiola) rhythm were the primeval starting point of the evolutionary process from which numerous Iberic-American autochthonous styles departed. The structure of those songs, which included its couplet-refrain as well as its hemiola rhythm from African origin, was replicated and modified in the American countries, thus originating diverse regional genres.

In music, hemiola is the ratio 3:2. The equivalent Latin term is sesquialtera. In pitch, hemiola refers to the interval of a perfect fifth. In rhythm, hemiola refers to three beats of equal value in the time normally occupied by two beats.

From the elaboration and fusion process of the first Spanish song-dances with sesquiáltera rhythm that arrived in Cuba, such as the Sarabanda and Chacona from the 16th century, three main lines of generic evolution originated, which may be classified as follows:

1 – The "song-dances", which include in chronological order: the Punto cubano and Zapateo, The Cuban Guaracha, the Rural Rumba, and the Urban Rumba, [5] the popular conga, the son, the mambo, the songo and the timba.

2 – The "dance-songs", comprised by genres such as the Cuban Contradanza and Danza, the Danzón, the Danzonete, the Danzón-mambo and the Cha-cha-chá (music).

3 – The "songs", composed of the Habanera, the Cuban Bolero, the Guajira, the Clave, the Criolla, the Tango-congo, the Salon Conga, the Pregón, and other hybrid genres such as the Guaracha-Son, the Guajira-Son, the Bolero-Son, the Lamento-Son, the Criolla-Bolero, the Bolero-Danzón, the Canción-Habanera and the Canción-Bolero. [6]

Cuban folk genres

According to its encyclopedic definition, the term folk music (that derives from the German word "folk" or people in English) serves to designate the music spontaneously created and preserved by the people of a country, in contrast with the terms commercial and classical music, which are related to works generated by trained specialists.

In the case of Cuban music, some of its most popular musical genres may be considered within the boundaries of the previous definition. The first Cuban popular music genres that emerged to the public awareness at the beginning of the 19th century, known as Punto cubano and Zapateo, [7] were created by peasants without any formal musical education; as well as the popular styles of Rumba Urbana or "de cajón" (wooden boxes) and the Cuban Carnival Conga (music). [8]

Also the Cuban Guaracha was considered to be a product of the common people from Havana, in a similar way as the Rural Rumbas and other ancestors of the Son cubano (such as Changüí from Guantánamo and the Sucu-sucu in Isla de Pinos) were considered to be. The Son cubano itself was born from a synthesis of different popular styles such as the Rumba Urbana and Rumba Rural, and performed until the 1930s by amateur musicians. [9]

Another Cuban folk music style emerged between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th in the poor neighborhoods of Havana. It was called Clave upon the name of the instrument utilized to accompany it, the Cuban Claves. This style was sung by popular choirs mostly integrated by colored people, called "Coros de Clave", and its rhythm was the vertical hemiola, also utilized in the ternary Cuban Contradanza. [10]

Vertical hemiola.
Play  (help*info) 3 over 2.png
Vertical hemiola. Loudspeaker.svg   Play  


Cuba also has produced a wealth of folk musical instruments. Among the most important ones we should mention the Claves, the Bongo drum and the Conga, derived from original African instruments; as well as the Tres, a descendant of the Spanish Laúd. There are also others less well known folk instruments such as the Tingo-Talango or Tumbandera (Ground bow), the Botija and the Marímbula, a sort of African Mbira.


Some well known Cuban folk music artists are: Punto singer Celina González, trovadores Sindo Garay and María Teresa Vera as well as soneros Ignacio Piñeiro, Máximo Francisco Repilado Muñoz Telles (Compay Segundo), Ibrahim Ferrer and Rubén Gonzalez.

Related Research Articles

Mambo is a genre of Cuban dance music pioneered by the charanga Arcaño y sus Maravillas in the late 1930s and later popularized in the big band style by Pérez Prado. It originated as a syncopated form of the danzón, known as danzón-mambo, with a final, improvised section, which incorporated the guajeos typical of son cubano. These guajeos became the essence of the genre when it was played by big bands, which did not perform the traditional sections of the danzón and instead leaned towards swing and jazz. By the late 1940s and early 1950s, mambo had become a "dance craze" in the United States as its associated dance took over the East Coast thanks to Pérez Prado, Tito Puente, Tito Rodríguez and others. In the mid-1950s, a slower ballroom style, also derived from the danzón, cha-cha-cha, replaced mambo as the most popular dance genre in North America. Nonetheless, mambo continued to enjoy some degree of popularity into the 1960s and new derivative styles appeared, such as dengue; by the 1970s it had been largely incorporated into salsa.

The music of Cuba, including its instruments, performance and dance, comprises a large set of unique traditions influenced mostly by west African and European music. Due to the syncretic nature of most of its genres, Cuban music is often considered one of the richest and most influential regional musics of the world. For instance, the son cubano merges an adapted Spanish guitar (tres), melody, harmony, and lyrical traditions with Afro-Cuban percussion and rhythms. Almost nothing remains of the original native traditions, since the native population was exterminated in the 16th century.

The son montuno is a subgenre of son cubano. The son itself is the most important genre of Cuban popular music. In addition, it is perhaps the most flexible of all forms of Latin-American music, and is the foundation of many Cuban-based dance forms, and salsa. Its great strength is its fusion between European and African musical traditions.

The Guajira is a music genre derived from the Punto cubano.

Son cubano is a genre of music and dance that originated in the highlands of eastern Cuba during the late 19th century. It is a syncretic genre that blends elements of Spanish and African origin. Among its fundamental Hispanic components are the vocal style, lyrical metre and the primacy of the tres, derived from the Spanish guitar. On the other hand, its characteristic clave rhythm, call and response structure and percussion section are all rooted in traditions of Bantu origin.

The guaracha is a genre of music that originated in Cuba, of rapid tempo and comic or picaresque lyrics. The word had been used in this sense at least since the late 18th and early 19th century. Guarachas were played and sung in musical theatres and in low-class dance salons. They became an integral part of bufo comic theatre in the mid-19th century. During the later 19th and the early 20th century the guaracha was a favourite musical form in the brothels of Havana. The guaracha survives today in the repertoires of some trova musicians, conjuntos and Cuban-style big bands.


Criolla is a genre of Cuban music which is closely related to the music of the Cuban Coros de Clave and a genre of Cuban popular music called Clave.

Magaly Ruiz Cuban musician

Doris Magaly Ruiz Lastres is a Cuban musician and composer. Her compositions have been performed at a number of international music festivals.

Cha-cha-chá is a genre of Cuban music. It has been a popular dance music which developed from the Danzón-mambo in the early 1950s, and became widely popular throughout the entire world.

Rumba is a secular genre of Cuban music involving dance, percussion, and song. It originated in the northern regions of Cuba, mainly in urban Havana and Matanzas, during the late 19th century. It is based on African music and dance traditions, namely Abakuá and yuka, as well as the Spanish-based coros de clave. According to Argeliers León, rumba is one of the major "genre complexes" of Cuban music, and the term rumba complex is now commonly used by musicologists. This complex encompasses the three traditional forms of rumba, as well as their contemporary derivatives and other minor styles.

Early Cuban bands played popular music for dances and theatres during the period 1780–1930. During this period Cuban music became creolized, and its European and African origins gradually changed to become genuinely Cuban. Instrumentation and music continually developed during this period. The information listed here is in date order, and comes from whatever records survive to the present day.

Adolfo Colombo Cuban actor and singer

Adolfo Columbo was a leading singer in the Alhambra Theatre in Havana, and also an actor and a leading personality in the theatre. Colombo was the most recorded artist in Cuba up to 1925: records show he recorded about 350 numbers between 1906 and 1917.

Punto guajiro or punto cubano – or simply punto – is a sung genre of Cuban music, a poetic art with music. It became popular in the western and central regions of Cuba in the 17th century, and consolidated as a genre in the 18th century. It has Andalusian and Canary Islands origins, and it integrated African elements in Cuba.

Dance in Cuba

Cuban culture encompasses a wide range of dance forms. The island's indigenous people performed rituals known as areíto, which included dancing, although little information is known about such ceremonies. After the colonization of Cuba by the Spanish Kingdom, European dance forms were introduced such as the French contredanse, which gave rise to the Cuban contradanza. Contradanza itself spawned a series of ballroom dances between the 19th and 20th centuries, including the danzón, mambo and cha-cha-cha. Rural dances of European origin, such as the zapateo and styles associated with punto guajiro also became established by the 19th century, and in the 20th century son became very popular. In addition, numerous dance traditions were brought by black slaves from West Africa and the Congo basin, giving rise to religious dances such as Santería, yuka and abakuá, as well as secular forms such as rumba. Many of these dance elements from European dance and religious dances were fused together to form the basis of la técnica cubana. Cuban music also contributed to the emergence of Latin dance styles in the United States, namely rhumba and salsa.

María Enma Botet Dubois was a Cuban pianist, composer and music educator. She was born in Matanzas and studied music with Hubert de Blanck and Joaquin Nin. After completing her studies, she taught music at the Hubert de Blanck Conservatory and the Amadeo Roldan Conservatory in Havana. She died in Miami.

Throughout the years, the Cuban nation has developed a wealth of musicological material created by numerous investigators and experts on this subject.

Raimunda Paula Peña Álvarez, better known as Paulina Álvarez, was a renowned Cuban singer of danzonetes. She became the leading exponent of the genre during the 1930s, being nicknamed La Emperatriz del Danzonete. Her greatest hit was the song "Rompiendo la rutina", the first danzonete, composed by Aniceto Díaz in 1929. In 1960 she recorded her only LP record.

Francisco Emilio Flynn Rodríguez, better known as Frank Emilio Flynn, was a renowned Cuban pianist. Despite being blind, he was a skilled and versatile pianist who mastered many forms of Cuban music, from danzas and danzones to filin, descarga and Afro-Cuban jazz. He was the founder and director of several ensembles, including Loquibambia (1946) and Los Modernistas (1951), both co-founded with José Antonio Méndez, as well as the Quinteto Instrumental de Música Moderna (1958), which later became Los Amigos.

Galician rumba belongs to those songs and dances called cantes de ida y vuelta, "of departure and return", like the Habanera, that travelled back from Cuba to the Spanish motherland to establish themselves as musical genres cultivated and cherished by the Spanish population.


  1. Alén Rodríguez, Olavo: Historia y teoría de los complejos genéricos de la música cubana, Revista Clave, Publicación del Instituto Cubano de la Música. ISSN 0864-1404. Año 12, Número 1, 2010, p. 50.
  2. Alén Rodríguez, Olavo: Historia y teoría de los complejos genéricos de la música cubana, Revista Clave, Publicación del Instituto Cubano de la Música. ISSN 0864-1404. Año 12, Número 1, 2010, p. 50.
  3. Acosta, Leonardo. De los complejos genéricos y otras cuestiones. Clave. Publicación del Instituto Cubano de la Música. Año 4, No. 3, 2003.
  4. Rodríguez Ruidíaz, Armando: La metodología de los "Complejos Genéricos" y el análisis de la música popular cubana autóctona, 2017:
  5. Rodríguez Ruidíaz, Armando: El origen de la música cubana: Mitos y Realidades, 2015:
  6. Rodríguez Ruidíaz, Armando: La metodología de los "Complejos Genéricos" y el análisis de la música popular cubana autóctona, 2017:
  7. Rodríguez Ruidíaz, Armando: El Punto y el Zapateo de Cuba:
  8. Rodríguez Ruidíaz, Armando: The origin of Cuban music. Myths and facts.
  9. Rodríguez Ruidíaz, Armando: The origin of Cuban music. Myths and facts.
  10. Orovio, Helio: Cuban music from A to Z. Tumi Music Ltd. Bath, U.K., 2004, p. 54.