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ByYami Cabrera (Cuban musicologist and Business Development Director of Havana Music Tours and Musical Getaways)

The rumba is one of the most important and universal Cuban styles of music. Many travelers and music lovers go to the island of Cuba to learn and enjoy a good Cuban rumba. Without a doubt, it is a relevant cultural attraction of this Caribbean island. Therefore, in this article, we will be addressing some essential elements of this peculiar genre.

What does the term rumba mean?

The term rumba is included within a series of Afro-Cuban words that designate a collective and profane festival in Cuba during colonial times. It is originally conceived as a couple of dancers that occur within a related group of people. Rumba is a party, touch, and dance. It manifests itself within a cohesive collective by ties of kinship or friendship, of the neighborhood.

Rumba party? Music and dance in Cuban rumba.   

At the rumba party, some play the drums, others raise the song, others respond as a chorus, and the others cheer with claps, waddle, go into the ring to dance, etc. Initially, the instruments used in these festivities were boxes of different sizes, frequently boxes of cod and candles; to achieve the highest sounds it was percussed in a bottle, in pans, or in some metallic implement.

These instruments were replaced with the development of the genre by three “tumbadoras” or “congas” of different heights. Each drum has a particular and specific rhythmic function.

The highest voice, the “Quinto”, a talking drum, is the one in charge of the improvisations that urge the dancer to make different figurations. The third drum or “salidor”, with a deep voice, marks a low ostinato, and the middle voice, “tres dos”, produces another stable rhythm that balances the whole percussion section of the rumba music. The singer carries the “claves”, which start and remain stable during the song.

Generally, rumba songs are preceded by a melodic vocal inspiration called “Diana”. Then, with the entry of the text, improvisation begins to expose the issue that gives rise to the rumba; this is called decimating. After improvisation, it “breaks” the rumba with the entrance of the instruments and the alternating solo-chorus form.

When the rumba breaks, a couple of dancers go into the ring. The dance is evocative and, in general, convulsive and disjointed; every step and gesture represents the events that precede the possession of a chicken. The Cuban rumba also presents variants of its style of music and dance: the guaguancó, the yambú, the Columbia, and a Spanish type of rumba.

Cuban rumba style became known at the beginning of the 20th century through famous groups such as `Los Roncos´, and `El Paso franco´. Later, they met rumberos who acquired great prestige such as Agustín Pina, Roncona, Malanga, Tío Tom, Chano Pozo, Virulilla, etc.

New technologies and most current rumba sounds

Undoubtedly, technology has allowed the Cuban rumba to approach contemporary sounds. With it, the electric bass is incorporated into a percussive plane. On some occasions, you can see the electric piano’s presence and the jazz band’s current sound, which has accompanied us since the 1920s when Cuban musicians, mentioned above, brought the rumba and the son to the Latin Quarter of New York. In addition, we can regularly find the violin combined with a contemporary touch during the spiritual songs to the ancestors.

Nowadays, there are famous rumberos such as the Clave and Guaguancó, Yoruba Andabo, Los Muñequitos de Matanzas and Los Papines groups, among others. The artistic representation of this folkloric manifestation can also be appreciated in the presentations of professional groups such as the Conjunto Folclórico Nacional, and local groups such as Rumbatá de Camagüey and Rumbávila de Ciego de Ávila.

Conclusions

As you can see, these are just some relevant data regarding the Cuban rumba. The Cuban rumba is a complex and very peculiar artistic phenomenon. On our part, it only remains to invite you to meet and enjoy this wonderful Cuban party with us.

The rumba is one of the most attractive Cuban styles for our team. That is why we always have a special space for her on our Tours. Havana Music Tours offers the opportunity to enjoy this style through direct contact with specific artists and musical groups such as Los Muñequitos de Matanzas or Clave y Guaguancó.

However, we recommend our Cuban Jazz and Rumba Tour, Fiesta Del Tambor (VIP), and even the Josone Music Festival in Varadero (Rumba, Jazz Son). These tours specialize their experiences in Cuban musical matters such as the rumba, and especially its percussion instruments. It is valid to highlight that our agency will also take into account personalized suggestions.

Are you ready to dance and enjoy Cuban rumba with our Havana Music Tours team?

Join us for an unforgettable tour of Cuba. Book your CubaTour Now!

Also, check out our Ultimate Cuba Travel Checklist (Updated January 2022)

Tonadas Trinitarias, Cuban Folk Music

ByYami Cabrera (Cuban musicologist and Business Development Director of Havana Music Tours and Musical Getaways

Trinidad is a beautiful city in the center of Cuba. There we can find a very distinctive genre of this city, known as Tonadas Trinitarias. In the beginning, this musical expression was developed as part of a festive musician-dance event of a movement and purely profane nature. This style is currently performed by some of its main folkloric-traditional musical groups from Trinidad city.

Although its name refers to a generic species linked to country Cuban music, the Tonadas Trinitarias musical form is very distant from this type of music. On the contrary, it denotes a type of music that is accompanied by three small drums with the parietal wedge, a guataca, a guiro, and a mixed choir. This type of group is also very similar –in terms of sound and instrumental format– to that of the harpsichord choirs from the rumba and typical of the cities of Matanzas and Sancti Spíritus.

This tradition dates back to the second half of the 19th century, and some sources highlight its similarity with the beginning of the independence struggles and the revolutionary fervor of the time. They were organized by choral groups of men and women, in charge of representing the different neighborhoods established in the town.

During the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century, it was known of the existence of two main groupings of Tonadas Trinitarias, each one representing specific neighborhoods, such as La Popa or Jibabuco and Simpá or El Tamarindo. However, the socio-cultural changes that occurred in the neocolonial stage caused a strong depression in the practice of these tunes, leaving both groups practically disabled.

The group meets again with the Triumph of the Revolution. This was possible at the request of government entities such as Cultura Municipal, and with the help of young art instructors. They bring together the main bearers of the tradition, it makes possible the creation of the Tonadas Trinitarias Group in 1963.

Unfortunately, starting in the 80s, this process led to the degradation of the tradition.  The Tonadas Trinitarias became a generic type to be included as part of a repertoire of the Conjunto Folclórico de Trinidad, and other local groups.

However, due to the ideological and commercial value attributed to the tradition, this tradition has a new resurgence as a cultural product after opening the city to tourism in the 2000s. The Tonadas reaches into the present despite the great challenges in improving its practice.

Currently, the group remains in force thanks to its own members’ efforts and some of the cultural authorities of the town. The Tonadas Trinitarias can be found in different places in the very center of Trinidad, Cuba, such as the Palenque de Los Congos Reales, or in the Patio Bécquer.

 

Here are a couple of different videos,

including a collaboration with Havana Music Tours founder, Chaz Chambers

 

 

The life story of glory

Úrsula Hilaria Celia de la Caridad Cruz Alfonso, more widely known as Celia Cruz, was a famous Cuban singer and left a footprint in history as one of the most popular Latin artists of the 20th century. Often referred to as Queen of Salsa, Celia Cruz‘s biography and history are very rich, intriguing, and full of accomplishments. Therefore, let‘s explore and discover the history of the legendary Cuban singer in 4 steps that are made simple, to take you back through one of the most illustrious music careers in Latin America‘s history.

Step 1: Early Life Footprints

According to Catalina Alfonso Ramos, her mother, Celia Cruz began singing as early as 10 months of age!

Celia Cruz was born at 47 Serrano Street in the Santos Suárez neighborhood of Havana, Cuba while her father, Simon Cruz, worked as a railway stoker and her mother was a housewife who took care of a big family of 14.

What started early continued every year for Celia Cruz. She sang practically everywhere: in school during the Fridays’ actos cívicos, in her neighborhood ensemble, Botón de Oro, and in cabarets as a teenager when her aunt took her there to perform.

Yet, still, Celia Cruz originally intended to become a literature teacher, but it was that critical victory in a
talent show where she interpreted the tango piece „Nostalgia“ in a bolero tempo that became life-changing, making her pause her studies to pursue what became an elusive music career.

celia-cruz-promo

Step 2: The Rise Of Musical Career

Her musical breakthrough started here in Cuba with her first recordings made in 1948 and 1950 when she began singing with the celebrated Cuban orchestra Sonora Matancera.

Celia Cruz sang regularly in Cuba with the ensemble on radio and television, made extensive tours, compiled full-length albums, headlined Havana’s Tropicana nightclub, and even appeared in five films that were produced in Mexico.

Unfortunately, after the Cuban revolution of 1960, Havana’s nightlife came to a standstill which made her leave Cuba.

A journey that changed her life and career forever.

celia cruz and band

Step 3: Commerical Success In the USA

When the revolution started sweeping over Cuba, Sonora Matancera with Celia Cruz was touring Mexico and decided to cross into the United States instead of coming back home to Cuba. This led Cruz to become a U.S. citizen by 1961, settling in New York City while enraged Fidel Castro forbade her to return to Cuba‘s soil.

In the beginning, as expected, she was relatively unknown in a new country, with a presence only in the Cuban exile community. In the mid-1960s she started gaining exposure and momentum after joining Tito Puente Orchestra which had a strong following across Latin America.

Not only did she become the face of the group, but Cruz captivated audiences with her enthusiasm, sparkling attires, and crowd entertainment, skyrocketing her musical career into new heights that not many could have predicted, forming one of the greatest music legacies in Cuban history.

celia cruz

Step 4: Strong Legacy & Death

Celia Cruz passed away in New Jersey on July 16, 2003, at the age of 77.

Her legacy left behind still goes strong to this day, and it encompasses so many areas that she was able to touch with her fascinating 40-year musical career.

As Celia Cruz continued to perform throughout the years, she made over 75 records of which 23 went gold, winning multiple Grammy & Latin Grammy awards. But that‘s only the tip of a legacy iceberg that still floats around today, approaching 2020.

The singer made an appearance in several movies, stamped a star on the iconic Hollywood Walk of Fame, and received an award of the American National Medal from President Bill Clinton. The highest recognition an artist can receive from the United States government. Cruz is remembered as one of the 20th century’s most beloved and popular Latin musicians with many tributes made for her over the years, including music schools being named after her, television series, and many many more.

However, Celia Cruz did manage to return to Cuba in 1990 after she was invited to make a presentation at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. After that, she took a few grams of earth from Cuba with her.

An epilogue in her autobiography notes that, in accordance with her wishes, Cuban soil which she had saved from a visit to Guantánamo Bay was used in her entombment. Returning her home, forever.

Image links:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Celia_Cruz#/media/File:Celia_Cruz,_1957.jpg

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Celia_Cruz#/media/File:Celia_Cruz_y_La_Sonora_Matancera.jpg

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Celia_Cruz#/media/File:Cruz_and_Ros-Lehtinen1992a.jpg