Home 9 Volume 2 9 Oral Traditions of Cuba




WITHIN TRADITIONAL FOLK CULTURE, music is unarguably the richest and most dynamic manifestation of the complex and diverse processes of integration and synthesis that shaped national identity in Cuba. Five centuries of transculturation have resulted in idiosyncratic ways of creating and performing music, without uprooting, however, coexisting melodic, rhythmic, and organological paradigms that remain relatively close to those of the contributing cultures whose coalescence configured the aesthetic behavior of the Cuban population.

With the nearly total decimation of indigenous peoples, the population of the island is mainly a product of the interaction between human conglomerates from specific areas of Spain and Africa, the latter transported by force to the New World colonies. On the one hand, Hispanic immigration was not only a continuous process that even increased during the four centuries of conquest and colonization, but also remained a demographic factor through the first half of the twentieth century, with waves of immigrants arriving from different parts of Spain and its island territories, especially Andalucía, Extremadura, Castilla (La Nueva and La Vieja), León, Galicia, Aragón, Asturias, and the Canary Islands. In one way or another, all these migratory flows left their mark on Cuba’s administrative organization, culture, and colonial society, but the impact of immigrants from the Canary Islands was perhaps the most lasting. Commonly known as “islanders” (isleños), these immigrants were largely responsible for important contributions to agrarian economy such as tobacco growing, the founding of numerous villages in rural areas, and the settlement patterns of the countryside in general. They also introduced and developed musical, choreographic, and organological traditions of unmistakable Hispanic roots that still persist among Cuba’s present-day rural population.

On the other hand, the ethnocultural composition of the African population, which was brought to the island between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries, was as heterogeneous as the settlements on the western coast of Africa, from Guinea to the southernmost reaches of the continent. This partly explains the variety and inconsistency of ethnonyms used to record their arrival in documents that occasionally make it impossible to associate these designations with either an African area of provenance or a specific ethnic group. Studies of archival sources, however, reveal that a significant majority came from Nigeria, Cameroon, the former Dahomey, and the Congo basin. These groups were recorded under such designations as Lucumí, Nagó, Oyó, Iyesá, Eguado, Ibo, Carabalí, Efik, Mina, Arará, Mandinga, Macua, and Congo, among others.

Other essential ethnic components were added to the mix of these two main cultural constellations, as immigrants arrived from other parts of the world for a variety of economic and political reasons. Such is the case of the French settlers and their slaves, who emigrated in the wake of the Haitian revolution (1791), first from Haiti and years later from New Orleans and other parts of Louisiana; the contingents of Asians brought to Cuba during the nineteenth century as indentured laborers to work on sugarcane plantations; and braceros from the Antilles—seasonal cane workers from Haiti, Jamaica, the Yucatan, and the Cayman Islands especially—who swelled the ranks of agricultural workers up through the first half of the twentieth century and settled permanently on the island in substantial numbers. In the process of settling, these immigrants not only bred generations of creole descendants but also reinserted many elements of their cultures of origin. Through a gradual process of adaptation to the telluric conditions on the island, they became “cubanized” and engendered new and distinctively Cuban modes of sociocultural behavior.

National identity, normative continuities, and detectable trends in traditional popular culture have sparked the interest of Cuban academics and intellectuals in general, among whom Fernando Ortiz (1881-1969) towers over all others for his influential contribution to an incipient critical theory and the vast corpus of exhaustively researched work he left behind (1921; 1922; 1924; 1925; 1940; 1947; 1950; 1951; 1952–1955; see also García-Carranza 1970). In the field of musicology, the work of Argeliers León (1915–91) and his widow, María Teresa Linares (b. 1920), is of monumental importance, not only for the significant number of seminal books and articles each of them has published, but also for their tireless efforts, over the course of more than half a century, to collect, study, record, and preserve Cuba’s musical heritage and train an entire generation of musicologists (León 1971; 1972a; 1972b; 1972c; 1973; 1974; 1976; 1977; 1980; 1986; Linares 1970; 1972; 1974a; 1974b) (see also Argeliers León, “Music in the Life of Africans and Their Descendants in the New World”; María Teresa Linares, “The Chinese Presence in Cuba”; and León and Linares, “The Comparsa in Cuba,” in this volume). Other significant contributions by Cuban scholars include Danilo Orozco’s far-reaching findings about the cluster of expressive forms within the generic domain of the Cuban son (1986); the studies carried out by Olavo Alén Rodríguez on certain typical and recurrent elements in traditional popular music of African antecedents and his monograph on tumba francesa in particular (1986); the criteria contributed by Rolando Pérez Fernández on the binarization of African ternary rhythms in Cuban and Latin American music (1987); the study and collection of music of oral tradition carried out by Martha Esquenazi (1977; 1990; 1991); the many theses produced by young musicologists on different aspects of traditional popular culture; and a towering contribution to the most recent research on organology and oral traditions, subsumed in Instrumentos de la música folclórico-popular de Cuba (Centro de Investigación y Desarrollo de la Música Cubana, Olavo Alén Rodríguez, Director 1997, 2 vols. and Atlas), written by Victoria Eli Rodríguez, with Ana Victoria Casanova Oliva, Jesús Guanche Pérez, Zobeyda Ramos Venereo, Carmen María Sáenz Coopat, Laura Delia Vilar Álvarez, and María Elena Vinueza.

The efforts of two research teams deserve special mention. One of them concerns the collective work carried out at the Centro “Juan Marinello,” which has produced a large database on music, dance, and festivals as a basis for the ambitious Atlas etnográfico de Cuba sponsored by the Academia de Ciencias. The other collaborative enterprise involved musicological studies undertaken by the Departamento de Investigaciones Fundamentales of the Centro de Investigación y Desarollo de la Música Cubana (CIDMUC) on specific traditions that have greatly enriched the Center’s collection of reports and field recordings generated by primary source research. Our teamwork served as the basis for this contribution, which seeks to summarize the most significant aspects of Cuba’s folk traditions and assess the degree to which some of these expressions have retained their currency in the late 1990s (see Map).

Map: Political subdivisions of Cuban territory.



Music is a fundamental component of each and every one of the religious systems coexisting in present-day Cuba. The diversity of systems and the extent to which they are embedded in the spiritual lives of the Cuban people respond to long and firmly entrenched historical and social conditioning, further sustained by family traditions. In the social fabric of present-day Cuba, we must consider the Roman Catholic Church (the official religion until 1959), the Protestant Church, syncretic religions of African origin, spiritism grounded on doctrines of Allan Kardec, Vodú as practiced by a minority of Haitians and their Cuban descendants, and other practices confined to small groups, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses (unauthorized in Cuba).

Altares de Cruz and Altares de promesa

It was customary for Roman Catholic priests to go into rural areas during religious holidays and fiestas honoring local patron saints and officiate at Masses, weddings, and baptisms, which were celebrated in homes or in sites that would permit open attendance, such as a tobacco house, batey centers (small villages where sugarcane workers lived), or even the town’s warehouses. For the rest of the year, it was more common to practice a more individual form of popular Catholicism expressed in the devotion to a particular saint, vigils, and wakes that included song, dance, rosaries, vows, and the fulfillment of promises. It was in this latter context that the religious celebrations surrounding “altars” dedicated to vows and to the Holy Cross took shape and served as the framework for the practice of a rich tradition of poetry and music among the rural population of eastern Cuba (Esquenazi 1977). Of long-standing Hispanic roots, these celebrations are known to have been practiced since the seventeenth century. They spawned numerous regional variants throughout the island up until the last few decades of the nineteenth century, when they began to disappear. In the late 1990s, they are confined to the easternmost part of Cuba and continue to be practiced with unmitigated vigor among the people of Baracoa and Maisí.

The ceremonies dedicated to the Altar of the Cross always began on May 3, Holy Cross Day, and could continue through the end of the month. They were centered around a multileveled altar set up by the family in one corner of the living room, with the Holy Cross placed on the uppermost level. On the remaining steps there were candles, flower vases, and stamped images of the Catholic saints to whom the family was devoted. The altar was blessed each night by the padrinos (sponsors) assigned the day before to lead the ceremonies and bear the cost of the celebration. After a few prayers were said, the participants formed one or two choruses, each headed by a lead singer or soloist. The choruses sang until midnight, the time to offer a toast followed by dancing. Dance music was provided by small son ensembles that varied according to the instrumental tradition and characteristic repertoire of each region.

The festivities centered on altares de promesa (or vows) are organized similarly, but they can take place at any time during the year in fulfillment of a promise made to a Catholic saint for his/her intercession in resolving a family or health problem. A figurine or stamped image of the honored saint is placed on the highest level of the altar and adorned with bouquets of flowers, flags, and a paper dove representing the Holy Spirit. The celebration begins with the baptism of the altar by the madrina (sponsor), continues with a rosary, and then each of the choruses begins to sing in alternation, vying for superiority in poetic and improvisational skills that the madrina rewards with gifts from the altar at the end of the ceremony. At midnight, another rosary takes place, and the singing resumes until dawn, when the festivities conclude with a final rosary.

The songs (tonos, or cantos de altares) are performed responsorially and consist of short melodic formulas of simple rhythmic and intervallic design whose lengths do not exceed four measures in duple (simple or compound) meter (24 or 68). Conjunct motion and melodic intervals of a third in ascending-descending patterns prevail. The soloist chooses one of these formulas, or tonos, on which to improvise three quatrains in alternation with the chorus, which repeats what the soloist sings strophe by strophe, concluding with a cadential refrain. The chorus generally sings in unison, although some responses are performed in parallel thirds. Poetic improvisations can allude to the religious icons placed on the altar, the circumstances and events surrounding the ceremony itself, or can elaborate on written devotional poetry and texts learned in advance from prayer books (Recorded Ex. 1).

Popularization of the liturgy

In urban settings, the liturgical music of Catholics and Protestants is conditioned by the norms of their respective churches. These practices have gone through a significant process of “popularization” that has not yet been addressed by Cuban musicologists.

In Catholic and Protestant churches, the music of widest appeal is learned from recordings that reach Cuba from Central and South America: its oral transmission, however, inevitably leads to gradual adjustments of the music and texts to fit characteristically Cuban modes of intonation. There is also a strong tendency to favor the popular song repertoire and the expressive field of the Cuban son. Boleros and ballads prevail, because the popularity of these genres crosses all social barriers and their permanent value in the repertoire makes them more resilient to changing fashions. As such, they are conducive to quick and effective communication of the religious message.

Each church’s musical establishment is made up of professional and amateur musicians who are members of the congregation. There is usually a mixed choir, a small instrumental ensemble, and soloists who lead in the singing of songs and hymns. The relationship between individual and collective singing is established through the use of very simple musical structures that, easy to repeat and memorize, respond to the meanings of the texts. Very frequently, these performances resort to an alternation of strophe and refrain (copla and estribillo), an organizational principle deeply rooted in Cuba’s most traditional forms of vocal expression.

The texts of the songs deliver the biblical message in simple and colloquial Spanish, adapting the Holy Scriptures to earthly concerns and to the peculiar character of the Cuban faithful. They are distributed in printed leaflets, or projected on a screen or wall of the temple, which the entire congregation can read because the Cuban church counts on the fact that all its adult members are literate.

The instrumental accompaniment to the singing always depends on available resources. Generally, a church would have an organ, piano, or guitar, to which the musicians would add their own instruments. The character of these ensembles is eminently popular, and they run the gamut from very simple to highly complex in size and timbric composition, from the most traditional folk ensembles associated with the domain of the son to modern pop and rock groups. Styles range from the most conservative adherence to the sanctioned liturgy to iconoclastic innovations. There is, however, one aspect of behavior among some Catholic churchgoers in Cuba that is unique, namely the capacity of individuals to establish relationships of a syncretic nature between the Catholic belief system and other conflicting popular religions.


Religious syncretism is manifested primarily at the level of the individual believer, who in him/herself carries religious diversity, that is, in each individual’s capacity to belong to different religious systems that he or she is then able to reconcile in practice. Thus, a person who joins any of the syncretic religions of African origin—as, for instance, the system of Ocha Ifá or the Regla de Palo Monte, among others—also participates in the most important rituals of the Catholic Church. Moreover, there is a certain level of mutual dependence between Catholic and syncretic rituals that, validated by their intertwined history, surfaces in the fact that, for instance, Catholic baptism and communion must precede initiation into any of the syncretic religions of African ancestry.

Syncretism also is expressed in the devotion of some believers to religious figures that have come to subsume a plethora of symbols from African-based religions. Such is the case of San Lázaro, Santa Bárbara, the Virgen de Regla, the Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre, and the Virgen de Las Mercedes, syncretized with deities and entities of African religious systems in a process mediated by their affinities in external and/or spiritual attributes, and by the inexhaustible creativity of a popular mysticism that has endowed them with multiple names and representations.

It is also common for people lacking clear religious affiliation with a specific syncretic religion to worship these figures solely on the basis of the miraculous powers attributed to them. These persons attend church services and also the rituals celebrated in the house-temples of the Regla de Ocha and the Regla de Palo Monte, among others. They also participate in traditional processions and pilgrimages to centers of worship, such as the sanctuary of the Virgen de Regla in the seaside neighborhood of Regla in Havana; the national sanctuary of the Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre, patron of Cuba, in Santiago de Cuba, which was given basilica status in 1977; the former leper colony of El Rincón, in the Province of La Habana, where the image of San Lázaro is venerated; or the Santa Bárbara chapel in the Leguina neighborhood of Guines (La Habana). Built under the auspices of an old African society (cabildo) dedicated to Changó, the chapel of Santa Bárbara still houses a set of bembé drums played on the eve of the Catholic commemoration of this saint (December 4). On September 7 and 8 (dedicated to the Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre), and on December 17 (San Lázaro) and 4 (Santa Bárbara) respectively, a heterogeneous mass of believers in diverse religious dogmas congregates to worship a common deity. They participate as actively in folk responsorial singing and songs accompanied by the membranophones and idiophones that make up the organological arsenal of syncretic religions, as they do in the more orthodox repertoire of the Catholic Church’s liturgical services.

In spite of this fluid relationship between believer and different belief systems, no significant crossover has taken place between the musical practices associated with each religious domain. Only in some of the centers of worship mentioned above have we observed a subtle tendency to rely on songs whose rhythmic design leans toward African antecedents (commonly known as rumbitas) and incorporate Cuban percussion instruments into the accompanying ensembles.

Musical contexts of syncretic religions

The rituals of African-based syncretic religions are differentiated by the degree to which they have preserved African forms of musical, choreographic, and organological behavior (León 1974 and 1986; Vinueza and Sáenz Coopat 1991). The Ocha-Ifá religious system, also known as Regla de Ocha or Cuban Santería, is based on the cult of orichas or deities of the Yoruba pantheon from the area of present-day Nigeria (see María Elena Vinueza, “Music in Festive Celebrations of the Regla de Ocha,” in this volume). Cuban Santería is the most complex and highly developed syncretic religion and the system that has preserved the greatest number of African traits (López Valdés 1985: 192). It is practiced throughout the island, with regional variants reflecting modifications in normative procedures, musical and choreographic repertoire, and instruments used in festive celebrations (Fig. 1) (see “Oru de Igbodu,” “Fiesta de bembé,” and “Toque de güiros,” vols. 2, 6, and 8 in Antología de la música afrocubana, under Discography).

Fig 1: Toque de güiros accompanying an oru lucumí in the house-temple of Eugenio Lamar, Nilo Nillé, in the city of Matanzas. Photo by Rolando Córdoba (1981), courtesy of the Centro de Investigación y Desarollo de le Música Cubana (CIDMUC), La Habana.

Particular cases within the same religious system include the Iyesá cult, which is confined to a small number of persons following the tradition of the Cabildo Iyesá Modue in the city of Matanzas (see “Música Iyesá,” vol. 3 in Antología de la música afrocubana, under Discography), and some remnants of the same tradition that have been identified in practices of the Cabildo Santa Bárbara in the city of Sancti Spiritus. The cult of Olokun, whose origin goes back to the Eguaddo or Egbado people of Kwa linguistic affiliation from the Yoruba region, on the other hand, has been preserved by a handful of family members and ahijados (godchildren) of the late Fermina Gómez in the city of Matanzas.

The Regla de Palo Monte is also widespread on the island, with variants such as Briyumba, Kimbisa, and Mayombe that developed from animistic beliefs and practices of Bantu peoples—Bakongos, Ambundos, Iombes, and Ngoyos, among others—from the old Kongo kingdom. The practitioners are called paleros, and the celebrants of highest rank in the ritual hierarchy are known as tata nganga. The norms and procedures followed by the paleros are quite diverse because each tata nganga has its own ritual and festive tradition within the shared and central objective of each house-temple, which is the worship of the nganga, prenda, or fundamento, a clay or iron recipient containing the natural elements that the palero wishes to subdue. All aspects of nature and humankind are symbolically contained in the nganga. Before the nganga, the initiates take blood oaths and to it they sacrifice animals and dedicate the ritual actions. Yuka drums were used by diverse groups from the Congo brought to Cuba during the colonial period (Fig. 2). The term yuka is of Bantu origin (see “Tambor yuka” and “Congos,” vols. 5 and 9 in Antología de la música afrocubana, under Discography).

Fig. 2: Yuka drum ensemble of Bantu antecedents during a dance in the area of San Luis, Province of Pinar del Río (1985). Courtesy of the Centro de Investigación y Desarrollo de la Música Cubana (CIDMUC), La Habana.

The Abakuá or ñáñigos have configured another type of ritual behavior of enormous cultural relevance. The rituals, currently practiced in the port cities of Havana, Matanzas, and Cárdenas, cannot be considered as belonging to an organized religion. Instead, they correspond to practices of West African secret societies of mutual aid, particularly the Egbo society that, widespread in the southeast of present-day Nigeria, reached Cuba with slaves originating from the port area of Calabar (López Valdés 1985: 193). Also known as juegos or potencias, these institutionalized societies are characterized by the observance of strict hierarchical orders and ritual functions whose objective is to preserve and reenact the sacred legend of the Efík and Efó peoples. The ritual artifact of maximum significance is the ekue drum, believed to reproduce the sacred voice of the fish, Tanze.

The Regla Arará, whose carriers consider themselves descendants of Ewe-Fon slaves from the region of former Dahomey (present-day Benin), is a syncretic religion still practiced in Cuba on a reduced scale. It is dedicated to Vodou deities and protective spiritual entities of the Dahomeyan pantheon, and to the sacred ancestors of the ritual family. The historical proximity between officiants, or santeros, of Ocha and Arará, and the numerical superiority of the former, have infiltrated linguistic elements and procedures characteristic of the Regla de Ocha into Vodú among some groups. In all cases, however, the music and musical instruments continue to be an important differentiating factor (see “Música Arará,” vol. 4 in Antología de la música afrocubana, under Discography). Confined to scattered members of a nucleus in Havana, the Arará folk religion retains its currency in five towns situated in the province of Matanzas (Jovellanos, Perico, Agramonte, Cárdenas, and the capital city of Matanzas). In Cienfuegos, the Arará drums that belonged to the Cabildo Espíritu Santo are still preserved, but ritual practices were discontinued several decades ago (Vinueza 1989).

The Gangá religious practices, though limited to a single ritual group and on the verge of extinction, are still current among descendants of the Diago family in Perico, Matanzas. Slaves designated as Gangá came to Cuba from parts of the area between the Niger and Sénégal rivers settled by Mandingo, Manding, or Malinke people (López Valdés 1985: 37). The beliefs and celebrations practiced by this family have lost many of their original elements but they still retain some of the deities, a unique rite for ancestors, and an entire repertoire of songs accompanied by the ensemble of gangá drums.

Music and dance play a fundamental role in the ceremonies of all these syncretic cults because, beyond their inherently historical, aesthetic, and recreational value, the singing and instrumental toques are the indispensable means as well as the decisive factor in reaching the religious objective, which is to summon the presence of deities through spirit possession of initiated believers.

The song repertoire associated with each of these religious systems has preserved important remnants of African languages which, notwithstanding modifications brought about by oral transmission, retain their links to syntactical structures from Yoruba, Bakongo, and Fon, among other languages. There are instances in which these linguistic remnants are mixed with Spanish words, as in the following examples:

         Lucumí song to Osún

Ay Osún baba keya loyu o
Osún baba yo arawé
Yeyé, Osún modele mokako
Osún modele, modele mokako.
     Solo: Yeyé oh
Itewere were ita Osún, Yeyé, Itewere were
Itewere were ita Osún, Yeyé, Itewere were ita Oyá
Ocha kiniwua, ita Osún, Keche keche ita Oyá, Yeyé
Itewere were.

           Kongo song of Palo Monte

     Solo: Eh, donde ’ta mamaninguoló
Donde ’ta mananguala, mató quien no lo vió
Maningualá, emuana muana kache mango donsala,
Eh, Kandunga, anderó.
Como baila Kandunga
Como baila Kandunga …

Songs are led by a soloist—apkwón, gallo, jacimo—who must have a certain level of knowledge of the African language and understand the meaning and function of each song. The melorhythm proposed by the soloist (call) is followed by a collective response (chorus). Based on simple structures, the alternation between call and response moves in an ascending–descending relationship from an axial, referential pitch that generates greater or lesser expressive tension depending on the extent of delay of its resolution in the low range (León 1974: 50). The melorhythmic design is closely linked to the syllabic prosody of the text and the expressive characteristics of the language; consequently, there are marked differences between types of songs whose linguistic patterns reflect different ancestries. For example, the songs for an oru lucumí (of Yoruba antecedents) adhere to longer and more articulated syntactical groups, as compared with those of Kongo origin (see Regla de Palo Monte above), which are characterized by the use of short, intermittent or segmented melorhythmic structures similar to those in Bantu languages. This applies not only to invocations of the prenda (sacred vessel), but also to other types of songs known as puyas or managuas.

Added to the singing are the instrumental toques (rhythmic locutions of patterns and strokes that serve a communicative function) unfolding rhythmically interactive timbric bands at high, middle, and low relative pitch levels. Each instrument has a corresponding rhythmic function that preserves the principles of interrelationship, subordination, and complementation characteristic of these expressive systems. The highest timbric plane—which generally corresponds to an iron idiophone—carries the timeline or metric-rhythmic guide for the rest of the ensemble and, maintaining a close relationship with the rhythmic design of the singing, underscores the stability of accentual patterns. The small and medium-size membranophones and idiophones that make up the middle range perform short and repetitive rhythmic units that, complementing or corroborating one another, stabilize the performance and provide the metric-rhythmic foundation for the improvisation on the lowest instrument. This latter function corresponds to the largest instrument and the one with the greatest sound capacity. It is played by virtuosos who develop their improvisations on the basis of the rhythmic relationships and group structures provided by the rest of the ensemble, making use of the instrument’s rich timbric range and ample sound potential. This timbric type of expressive behavior is so common among ensembles of African antecedents that, when a transformation or change in the function of one of the timbric bands occurs, it affects the rhythmic functions of all other components of the ensemble, especially when the improvisational role is reversed, shifting from the low to the high plane in a practice modeled on elaborations of rumba, which was introduced into ritual toques by young performers.

The performer who carries the improvisational role enters into a close relationship of dialogue or rivalry with the solo dancers, challenging them to engage in a relational function conditioned by the choreographic gestures that represent the deities worshiped and summoned by the singing. From the outset, the intensity of the toque is critical for the dancers’ achievement of spirit possession, or “descent” of the summoned deities. Later on, the vitality and success of the ceremony depend largely on the performer who carries the improvisational role and other musicians’ ability to interpret and respond to the demands of the possessed dancers. Thus, the performer of this fundamental role and the instrument itself are highly esteemed components of the ritual; special rites of consecration are dedicated to them; they are subject to certain sexual norms and taboos, and, in some cases, they merit an official position in the religious hierarchy and the greeting of all the participants in the celebration.

The accompanying ensembles preserve a plethora of instrumental types, even some that still bear an identifiable relationship to African organological models. Without a doubt, the Regla de Ocha (of Yoruba antecedents / Lucumí) displays the greatest morphological variety of instruments. These include the batá drums; bembé drums; the abwe, güiro, or chequeré (chekeré), a shaker, or external concussion idiophone made of a gourd covered with netted beads; iyesá drums; and dundún drums. Some of these, such as the abwe or chequeré, and even the sacred batá drums, have joined popular music ensembles as independent instruments, dissociated from their ritual contexts. The organology of the Bantu peoples, however, as cast in the makuta, yuka (Fig. 2), and kinfuiti drums of the old Congos, or those used in the paleros’ rites (Regla de Palo Monte), have contributed significantly to the development of a distinctively Cuban organology evidenced in such national instruments as the tumbadora and bongó (Figs. 3 and 4).

Fig. 3: Toque de makuta in the Cabildo Kunalungo or Sociedad San Francisco de Asís (Sagua la Grande, Villa Clara, 1986). Photo by Francisco Escariz, courtesy of the Centro de Investigación y Desarrollo de la Música Cubana (CIDMUC), La Habana.

Fig. 4: Instrumental ensembles of African antecedents. From top to bottom and left to right: batá drums; güiro ensemble; bembé drums; Abakuá drums; yuka drum ensemble; and tambores de palo. Drawings courtesy of the authors.

Musical practices of Cuban spiritism

There are three fundamental variants of spiritism, all widespread throughout Cuba: “table or scientific” (de mesa), “circle” spiritism (de cordón), and “hybrid” (cruzado) (Argüelles Mederos and Hodge Limonta 1991). Scientific or table spiritism is considered a highly perfected version or “school” based on the doctrines of Allan Kardec. Its practice took hold toward the end of the nineteenth century among educated people of upper economic and social position in the western part of the country, gradually making its way into poorer segments of the population, where it is known as “table” spiritism because followers perform their spiritual tasks sitting at a table.

The second variant is a simplified version of Kardec’s teachings, with added elements from Catholicism and from folk religions. Its name, de cordón, derives from the circle formed by followers during the “spiritual or circle session.” It reached its period of maximum influence in the early twentieth century on the plains of the Cauto River area and in the western part of the Sierra Maestra; its practice has extended now to Camagüey, Villa Clara, and the city of Havana (Andrés Bermúdez 1968).

The third variant, “hybrid” spiritism or espiritismo cruzado, has syncretized elements from “table” spiritism, Regla de Ocha, and Regla de Palo Monte. For this reason, it is accepted by a large number of santeros and paleros throughout the country. Its rituals include consultations, despojos (purifications, or cleansing rituals to remove malignant spirits from the afflicted), and cures through animal sacrifice, consumption of the blood of the sacrificed animals, and the preparation of brews from herbs and a variety of plants.

In all three forms of spiritism, music is the essential mediator to establish communication between believers and the spiritual beings or entities invoked. All rituals involve singing, which takes place with and without instrumental accompaniment. In the “table” and “hybrid” forms of spiritism, unaccompanied songs often are configured in the style of boleros and baladas. “Table” spiritism uses a unique form of melismatic intonation that suggests links to the Hispanic legacy of rural tonadas and also resembles the melismas of rumba (Recorded Ex. 2).

The musical repertoire of “hybrid” spiritism, or cruzado, meanwhile, recalls the intonation style of songs of African progeny and also resorts to melismas rumberos, that is, those found in the guaguancó modality of rumba. The décima (ten-line stanza) is used as the poetic versification framework and, occasionally, there are refrains and clarinadas similar to the coplas of rumba-style texts, as illustrated in the following excerpt transcribed from our field recording of the spiritist Bernardina Aguilera from Surgidero de Batabanó in the Province of La Habana:

Yemayá africana
yo te llamo a la misión,
oye mi voz!
Oh! misión despejadora
Yemayá africana
Yemayá vamo a vencer
Yemayá arará.
African Yemayá
I summon you to the task,
listen to my voice,
Oh! an act of deliverance,
African Yemayá
Yemayá, we are going to overcome,
Arará Yemayá.

In “circle” spiritism, or de cordón, the most significant musical element is performed by the participants (cordoneros) holding hands in a circle that turns in only one direction, as they raise and lower their arms energetically and stomp the ground rhythmically with their feet. The lead medium or head soloist guides these movements and intones unaccompanied songs, to which the rest of the participants provide responses. In the climactic moments during the singing, the participants utter guttural sounds or a loud, sibilant cacophony produced by the force with which they inhale and exhale at the same time, in rhythmic alternation or in subversion of the pulse, creating an effect of great expressive impact.

The spiritual Mass, more commonly found in the “table” form of spiritism, is another type of celebration in which songs are performed accompanied by small instrumental ensembles whose main component is the violin, therein their designation as “spiritual violins.” To one, two, or three violins are added guitar, accordion, tumbadora (drum), and piano, among other instruments. These are ad hoc groups of professional musicians who come together for this type of activity. Their repertoire includes spiritual songs and hymns, and a wide variety of other songs and instrumental pieces to comply with the requests of the person who hires the group.

Singing with instrumental accompaniment is also present in the “hybrid” form of spiritism, but in this case there is a much greater range of possible combinations because the syncretic nature of the religious practice admits different ensembles, from the violines espirituales of “table” spiritism to the ensembles of Regla de Ocha and Palo Monte. The instrumental choices depend on the spirit to which the Mass is dedicated. For instance, a spiritist we interviewed in the city of Havana told us that, in order to summon the “commission” of African spirits, or the spirit of a Kongo, the singing must be accompanied by tumbadoras, chequeré, maracas, one or two violins, guitar, accordion, and flute.

In some areas of eastern Cuba there are songs, or spiritual rumbitas, accompanied by small son ensembles. Their texts, structured in quatrains (cuartetas), represent Yoruba orichas linked to the daily life of the living and to the world of the spirits (Recorded Ex. 3). In the same areas, the songs of “hybrid” spiritism have attained such popularity as to have crossed over to the population at large, outside of religious practice. For instance, housewives sing them while doing their chores, and they also surface in lullabies:

Babalú ayé
Donde está la nena?
Bailando bembé
en piso de arena.
Babalú ayé
Where is the baby?
Dancing bembé
on the soft sand.

The degree to which the beliefs and practices of “hybrid” spiritism have blended with other folk religions in some areas of eastern Cuba reaches beyond the boundaries of syncretic cults to fuse with practices of Haitian Vodou. This relatively recent phenomenon is illustrated by a spiritist from Guantánamo, who explains that, “when a Haitian spirit makes contact with the medium, it speaks French; when it’s Jamaican, it speaks English; but when it comes to calling the strongest Haitian spirits, one must sing and play on Haitian bembé drums.” “Haitian bembé” is the local form of referring to the Vodú celebrations developed in Cuba by Haitian immigrants and their descendants.



The roots of the traditional Cuban cancionero can be traced to Spanish folk poetry in quatrains of octosyllabic verses, or coplas that, from time immemorial, served the people to poeticize reality, narrate local events, mourn a lost love, reconstruct politics, or profer words of sententious wisdom. As with its European antecedents, the copla in Cuba was counterposed to a refrain, making it easy for Africans to adapt it to their style of singing in alternation of individual solo (copla) and collective response (refrain), which, as an organizational principle, was already familiar to their style of vocal expression (call and response). This adaptation set the precedent for future processes of national syntheses in Cuba, as is the case of the son, which we will address later in this survey.

The sung romance cultivated in 16th-century Spain was very popular in colonial Cuba, but only a few octosyllabic romancillos have survived from this repertoire. Among them are “Los tres albinos,” “El Señor Don Gato,” and “El conde niño” (Recorded Ex. 4), the latter sung for us by a child from Punta de Maisí. These romancillos have been kept alive in the memory of a handful of children and adults from isolated parts of eastern Cuba (see Cancionero hispanocubano under Discography). In addition, survivals of octosyllabic romances and romancillos endure in children’s rounds and lullabies.

Cuba has a rich repertoire of lullabies (nanas), games, and cradlesongs (Esquenazi 1990). In some of these we still can identify similarities with their counterparts in the Canary Islands, Catalonia, Galicia, and some Latin American countries (García Lorca 1930 in 1961). Other children’s songs are confined to small family groups, as in the case of some African, Haitian, and Jamaican lullabies. In her comprehensive study of this repertoire, Martha Esquenazi (1990) identified three levels of oral transmission: dissemination across the population at large; practice confined to a single community, as within Haitian immigrant groups, for instance; and songs transmitted orally within a particular family group, which is how some songs of African origin have been preserved.

In general, these are strophic songs versified in hexasyllabic quatrains; binary rhythms prevail over ternary subdivisions; and the major mode is more common than the minor. The melody is built on antecedent–consequent phrases, which a mother may repeat over many quatrains, maybe as many as needed to sing the child to sleep. In rural areas it is not uncommon to find an assortment of other types of songs to lull babies, such as décimas and tonadas used for the punto cubano, refrains and quatrains from the repertoire of the son montuno, even tonadas for the “Cross” and “promise” altar ceremonies (Altares de Cruz and Altares de promesa).

One of the most popular lullabies in present-day Cuba is a hexasyllabic romancillo, “Señora Santana,” linked to coplas and romances for Christmas. In her study of the romance in Cuba, Carolina Poncet y Cárdenas (1985) noted that the same canto appears in romancillos and cuartetas associated with the manger and other objects surrounding the newly-born Jesus. The most popular and oft repeated verses of the song are as follows:

Señora Santana
por qué llora el niño,
por una manzana
que se le ha perdido.
Señora Santana
Why does she cry?
Because of an apple
That he cannot find.
Yo le daré una,
yo le daré dos,
una para el niño,
y otra para vos.
I will give him one,
I will give him two,
One is for the child,
The other for you.
Yo no quiero una,
yo no quiero dos,
yo quiero la mía
que se me perdidó.
I don’t want the one,
I don’t want the two,
I just want the apple
That I have just lost.
(see Cancionero hispanocubano under Discography.)

Other romancillos that have been preserved as lullabies and remain enormously popular in Cuba are “Duérmete mi niño,” “La palomita,” and “La lechera,” among others.

This rich tradition of coplas, romances, and décimas was also the basis for the development of a vast repertoire of work songs, including many of Hispanic as well as African, Chinese, Haitian, and Jamaican antecedents (see “Viejos cantos afrocubanos” in Antología de la música afrocubana, vol. 1, and Cancionero hispanocubano under Discography). Some of these songs accompanied urban labor, but those associated with rural tasks have proved more resilient, despite the inevitable decline of a tradition preempted of its function as younger generations find work in technological environments not conducive to this type of oral expression.

In her book on traditional work songs in Cuba (1991), Martha Esquenazi divides those she collected into the following categories: (1) rural tasks (ox [boyeros], cattle and mule herding, plowing, sowing, clearing and hoeing, coffee picking, tobacco sorting, coal- and sugarcane-related tasks, roof thatching); (2) maritime-related labor (fishermen’s and stevedores’ songs); (3) housework songs (washing and ironing, coffee piling); (4) hunting-related onomatopoeia; (5) urban work songs (bakers’ and millers’ songs); and (6) street vendors’ songs.

Filled with the beauty of their popular character, street vendors’ songs infused the city with their unique sound during the colonial era and were a fixture of daily life for as long as wandering vendors sold artisanal goods, fruits, candies, and other food products for which there was a large demand (for recorded examples, see La música y el pueblo, vols. 1 and 2, under Discography).

Among those accompanying rural tasks, the boyeros’ or ox herders’ songs are still sung. They tend to alternate décimas on various themes and tunes (tonadas) for the punto guajiro with exclamations and melismas intended to herd the oxen. A representative décima (ten octosyllabic verses rhyming abba ac cddc) was provided by José Díaz Lugo de Sandino from Pinar del Río:

Me mandaste a decir
que a tu casa no llegara (bis)
ni por tus puertas pasara
que era darte que sentir.


Y yo te mandé a decir
soy hombre que tengo pecho
esa acción que tú me has hecho
de mandarme a retirar
mi vida dame un lugar
para alegar mi derecho.

Arre, arre, Perla Fina
Arre, arre, Grano de Oro
con tu trabajo y el mío,
hacemos un gran tesoro.

You sent me a message
To stay away from your house (bis)
And even now, from your door
Or else you’d feel uneasy.


And so I sent word back
That my pride will not accept it
And feel that such a ban
Is unjust to say the least.
So, dear, give me a chance
To get back in your good graces.

Come on, come on, Pearly White
Come on, come on, Gold Nugget
It is with your work and mine
That we’ll build a fortune right.

(Translation courtesy of Emilio Bernal Labrada.)

Cattle herders also use exclamations to direct cows to the desired spot. Interjections form melopeas that, combined with those intoned by other herders, create a peculiar polyphony.



The punto guajiro or punto cubano is a traditional way of singing a learned or improvised décima in which we can detect the strong influence of the Canary Islands and of song traditions from the southern regions of the Iberian Peninsula. This practice has configured a vast cancionero, or repertoire, from styles characteristic of the various regions that also assume local modalities. The punto is the most representative expression of Cuba’s rural population and the vehicle through which peasants express their ideological struggles, chronicle events, sing epics, and deliver their lyrical messages (Linares 1972 in 1982: 246; 1974a; León 1974).

As literary expression, the décima signals changes associated with the spontaneous evolution of rural poets. These include contractions and extensions through the use of short refrains and prolonged vowels in an exercise of popular poetic license on the symmetry of versification (Linares 1972).

The melodic component of the punto is the tonada. These tunes are based on Hispanic melodic elements whose most salient characteristic is their modal nature. They adhere closely to patterns of the Phrygian (called “minor” by the campesinos) and Mixolydian (called “major”) modes. These patterns blend with the accompanimental resources of string instruments that support the singing with harmonies in major and minor modes (Recorded Ex. 5).

Two main styles of punto guajiro can be distinguished. The punto libre (in free meter)—also called pinareño or vueltabajero because of its prominence in western Cuba—is so named because the singer or poet does not confine the tonada to a regular tempo but subordinates the accompaniment to the prosodic rhythm of the poetic delivery, which is performed in a slow tempo, drawing out the final cadences (Recorded Ex. 6).

The style of the punto fijo (fixed, or in regular meter) is also known as camagüeyano (from Camagüey) or punto central, because it is characteristic of Cuba’s central-eastern region. In the punto fijo, the poet sings the tonada at a steady, unchanging pace, subordinating it to the accompaniment of a syncopated rhythmic/melodic/ harmonic pattern that constitutes a syntactical unit and is repeated continually. Variants of this style of punto include the punto cruzado, punto espirituano for two voices (from the area of Sancti Spiritus) (Recorded Ex. 7), and the seguidilla.

In both styles of punto, the poetic structure of the décima is highlighted by its delivery in alternation with instrumental interludes, according to the following scheme:

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Instrumental First exposition Instrumental Second exposition
Introduction Verses 1 2 1 2 3 4 Interlude Verses 5 6 7 8 9 1 0


This structure is invariably maintained each time a poet participates in the round, or ronda, which is the traditional way of organizing the singing when performances involve two or more poets. The controversia is also very popular. As an improvised poetic duel of wits, the controversia may or may not involve rivalry in the treatment of the chosen theme (see La música y el pueblo, vol. 1, under Discography). (See also Beatriz Seibel, “The Payadores of the Río de la Plata”; and Elizabeth Travassos, “Oral Traditions of Northeastern Brazil,” in Music in Latin America and the Caribbean: An encyclopedic history, vol. 3.)

Among the themes most frequently addressed are first and foremost those related to amorous relationships (jealousy, fidelity, infidelity, everlasting love, etc.), as well as patriotism, economic concerns, social matters such as improving standards of living and rural production methods, and descriptions of the natural world. Other themes generally reserved for virtuoso folk bards are death, the décima and its history, ethical and metaphysical questions, and human conflicts over differing points of view.

The following décima subsumes several of these themes. It was collected in 1985 from the poet Cuca Serrano in Guane, Pinar del Río. We have outlined above the structure of the décima as well as the pattern of alternation of verses with instrumental interludes, which is the most common way of performing the punto libre (free).

Yo vengo de mi bohío (a) phrase a verse 1
que tengo allá en monte adentro. (b) A phrase b verse 2
Yo vengo de mi bohío (a) phrase a verse 1
que tengo allá en monte adentro (b) A phrase b verse 2
y allá amarrado en el centro (b) phrase c verse 3
dejé mi perro bravío. (a) B phrase d verse 4
Allí se oye el murmullo (a) A phrase a verse 5
de los pájaros cantores (c) phrase b verse 6
los buenos compositores (c) phrase a verse 7
se inspiran con toda el alma (d) A phrase b verse 8
le cantan a la palma (d) phrase c verse 9
y a nuestros libertadores. (c) B phrase d verse 10

Instrumental conclusion

I’m leaving my home behind
deep in the hinterland.
I’m leaving my home behind
deep in the hinterland.
But my watchdog’s there at hand
with all my things to mind.

There’s where i long to hear
the hearty warble of birds.
Where the songwriter’s ear
heeds the ground i hold dear
and the patriots’ great words.
(translation courtesy of Emilio Bernal Librada.)

There is a wealth of tonadas in both styles of punto—perhaps as many as the number of poets capable of creating their own melodies. Thus, many tonadas that have become traditional are named after their composers, as in the tonada Carvajal, or that of Fortún del Sol. Some singers are carriers of a large repertoire of tonadas and they may display the art of combining them extemporaneously when they sing or improvise their décimas. This practice is known as combinación de tonadas and those who possess such talent are known as tonadistas.

Tonadas—whether for punto libre or fijo—may involve a refrain, which can be interpolated in the middle or at the end of the décima. The refrain is so significant as to have served, in many cases, to name the tonadas, even when it may consist of only a brief literary motif, or an onomatopoeic sound. Some classic refrains are “Mi china ven,” “Rumban chíquite,” “Con la mechita” (tonada del tartamudo, or stutterer), “Caramba trigueña,” “La Tulibamba,” and “Guacanayara” (see Cancionero hispanocubano and La música y el pueblo, vol. 1, under Discography).

Both styles of punto cubano (free and fixed) display numerous forms of regional and local expression, but, at present, the only variant assigned generic status is the punto de parranda, which, typical of the Ciego de Ávila province, is aligned with the style of punto fijo from central-eastern Cuba (Ramos Venereo 1987). Characteristic of the punto de parranda is for the singer to begin the performance with the interjections Eh! or Hey!, and then continue with the décima, which may include interspersed lalaleos. At the conclusion of the stanza, a cuarteta (quatrain) sung collectively serves as refrain and leads to the performance of the next parrandero, and thus consecutively until all the participants, which sometimes number up to twenty persons, have taken their turn (Recorded Ex. 8).

Playing and singing parranda is the central objective of fiestas characteristic of a significant percentage of the rural population in the central provinces of Sancti Spiritus and Ciego de Ávila, and the favorite activity in family or communal celebrations. Once the parranda is organized, no time is wasted in slaughtering an animal, preparing traditional foods, and distributing drink for the celebration to last until the next day.

The groups that perform punto de parranda rely on a sizable ensemble that, similar to those associated with the son, includes a marímbula (idiophone), bongós (membranophone), tres and guitar (chordophones), and claves and güiro (idiophones). The nature of the ensemble and the harmonic and rhythmic relationships it generates, together with the modal character of the tonadas, imprint on parranda a new quality that tends toward a synthesis with the expressive domain of the son.

The punto cubano tradition has retained its currency. In the 1990s it is the most significant manifestation of music making among rural peoples of the western provinces and maintains a presence there that has not dwindled. In the central region, it is closely related to the development of the son in parranda style. Conversely, its presence in eastern Cuba is scarce, and it is interesting to note that the few isolated groups practicing it in this region follow the model of the metrically free punto libre of western Cuba because it is a recent appropriation conditioned by the widespread dissemination of this style both through the radio and by internal migrations to and from the western part of the country.

The ensembles that accompany the punto campesino group instruments into four combinations, from the simple pair of laúd and tres, or tres and guitar with güiro and claves, to electric instruments with a harmonic bass, Cuban percussion, and trumpet. This is because the configuration of these ensembles has responded historically not only to the need to sustain poetic expression through the singing of puntos, but also to the requirements of dance as recreation (Sáenz Coopat and Vilar 1987; Sáenz Coopat 1991).

The first of these dances was the zapateo, a couple dance no longer practiced by the early decades of the twentieth century and of which only certain gestures and choreographic elements remain, integrated into dances rooted in the son tradition. Also danced were the tumbantonio, caringa, gavilán, and síguemepollo; the ubiquitous European waltzes, mazurkas and polkas; and the Spanish jota and pasodoble. In eastern Cuba, the Franco-Haitian influence was evidenced in contradanzas, lanceros, and merengues, which are still very popular among the population of Haitian descent. For more than a quarter of a century, however, the son and guaracha have occupied central stage in the fiestas of campesinos, explaining why the punto ensembles gradually have adjusted their harmonic and timbric qualities to the requirements of these dance forms.

Since the 1960s Cuba has undergone a process of rapid urbanization that has left traces on its musical traditions. A majority of punto ensembles, although located in areas that maintain their rural lifestyles and traditions, were not immune to the consequences of urbanization. As they became receptive to the influence of the mass media and aware of new musical preferences, they also have been leaving behind the supremacy of punto cubano as the characteristic musical expression of Cuban campesinos.



The Cuban son represents the first musical manifestation of synthesis or coalescence of European and African elements into the features of a genre of idiosyncratically national character. Specific elements of Bantu progeny (expressed in formal structures, timbric qualities, and organological peculiarities), and those of Canary Islands and Andalusian import (assimilated in cadential formulas, intonation, and vocal and instrumental performance practice), as well as others denoting an Afro-Caribbean and, somewhat later, African-American influence, converged in the creation and development of this generic conglomerate (Orozco 1986; see also Antología integral del son under Discography).

From its earliest manifestations, the son has been always the creative exponent of a particular way of life that remained forever imprinted on types of songs (based on cuartetas, décimas, and copla/estribillo, or strophe/refrain relationships), instruments (the tres, bongó, and marímbula), and dance forms that today characterize the principal musical and choreographic behavior of the Cuban people.

From as far back as the beginning of the nineteenth century, we have evidence of primordial sones montunos. Danilo Orozco (1986) assigns their origin to the family nucleus, wherefrom they gradually began to penetrate other social contexts around 1860. For a long time, the son was circumscribed to rural areas; by ca. 1910, however, it had infiltrated cities, once its rural roots had become deeply entrenched (Fig. 5). This effected a musical interaction between city and countryside, catalyzed among other factors by the wars of Independence (1868–78 and 1895–98), and by large waves of internal migration during the early years of the Republic (after 1902). The fertile soil for the son’s emergence was eastern Cuba, though it is believed that similar conditions for these early manifestations were also present in the central region (see María Antonieta Henríquez and Hilario González, “A Disquisition on the Song ‘Ma Teodora,’” in Music in Latin America and the Caribbean: An encyclopedic history, vol. 3).

Fig. 5: Performer of son montuno (Pinar del Río, 1990). Photo by Raúl Díaz Puig, courtesy of the Centro de Investigación y Desarrollo de la Música Cubana (CIDMUC), La Habana.

This family/society and countryside/city dichotomy reached its mediation in a musical form—the son—that assumed the representational value of all kindred musics favored by the different classes and economic levels of Cuban society during the 1910 decade. Upon the arrival of Victrolas to the batey of sugar plants around the same time, the rural population came in contact with a destabilizing variety of urban forms of music-making in the cities. The son’s heyday in urban centers and smaller communities of western Cuba, both as a dance and fashionable genre in general, can be dated between 1920 and 1935. Although the most traditional rural ensembles retained their differentiating characteristics (as in the case of bunguitasmontunos, and piquetes), this period saw the beginning of a subtle process of incorporation of elements typical of urban son ensembles—especially the use of trumpet and string bass—in rural and semiurban groups. Even in the 1990s one finds archaic son ensembles in rural areas throughout Cuba that have preserved their traditional characteristics in the midst of the dynamic developments affecting these groups. One example of these primordial forms of son is a type of montuno called nengón whose multiple variants are still current in all regions of the country (Fig. 6) (see Antología integral del son under Discography).

Fig. 6: Ensemble of nengón and kiribá from El Güirito in the Municipality of Baracoa (1983). Photo by Raúl Díaz Puig, courtesy of the Centro de Investigación y Desarrollo de la Música Cubana (CIDMUC), La Habana.

The son ensemble is the most widespread, important, and representative among all types of instrumental groups of traditional popular music in Cuba. It is generally made up of three subgroups of instruments with distinct melodic, harmonic, rhytnmic, and timbric functions: plucked strings, harmonic bass, and rhythmic foundation. Several modalities as well as different levels of development coexist in present-day ensembles, all of which evolved in the course of their brief history of little more than a century.

There are five typologically fundamental variants of son ensemble. These reflect the simultaneous survival of ensembles and son repertoires ranging from the most primordial and foundational to the most “elaborated” and modern forms of popular creativity and innovation. (We use “elaborated” in the sense implied by Argeliers León’s concept of factor urbano elaborado.) (See also Sáenz Coopat 1991 and Fig. 7.)

Fig. 7: Son ensembles also used for performances of punto cubano. From top to bottom and left to right: 1) tumbadora, guitar, güiro (scraper), marímbulabongó, metal güiro (scraper), maracas, tres, and cencerro; 2) laúd, string bass, tumbadora, and maracas (on top of the tumbadora): and 3) two bocúes, guitar, trespailitas or timbales with cencerro attached to the tripod, maracas, and bongó.

The first is a simple type of ensemble of two or three players that generally includes a tres (a Cuban chordophone of three double courses of strings, similar to the guitar), maracas, and possibly a marímbula (idiophone) or a bongó (membranophone). Its repertoire adheres very closely to the earliest and most foundational or archaic folk type of son. These ensembles are generally ad hoc groups made up of friends or family members, and their study is only possible through systematic participatory observation, such as that carried out by musicologist Danilo Orozco with families who had been practicing the son tradition for over a hundred years in the eastern region of Cuba. There are now very few of these groups left.

The second type is made up of a tres, marímbula, maracas, güiro or guayo, and bongó, and is characteristic of the changüí ensemble. Changüí is a generic variant of son of major importance, typical of some areas in the Province of Guantánamo, the island’s easternmost zone. A similar ensemble is part of another generic variant, the sucu-sucu pinero, found on the Isla de la Juventud (Linares 1974b).

More complex son groups fit into a third type, and these groups are among the most widespread. The instrumental configuration includes acoustical chordophones, which are generally amplified through makeshift methods (homemade amplifiers, battery operated radios); a marímbula or a string bass; and the combination of bongó with one or two tumbadoras or pailas (membranophones), as well as maracas, claves, güiro, and cencerro (cowbell), all idiophones. This is a type of conjunto estable, or organized ensemble for performances of dance music in rural and urban settings.

The fourth type of group is the urban septet. In addition to the increasingly amplified acoustical chordophones, a string bass or an electric bass, bongó, tumbadoras, and the idiophones listed above, these ensembles incorporate a trumpet that carries a melodic and improvisational function. A similar format has been observed in some idiosyncratic son ensembles of the Cauto River plains, in what is now Granma Province. In these ensembles, commonly known as melcochas, the chordophones are replaced by one or two accordions that assume the main melodic and harmonic functions.

Similar behavior to that described above is characteristic of the órgano oriental, or órgano de Manzanillo ensemble of eastern Cuba, whose name is derived from the famous portative organs traditionally built in the city of Manzanillo. The use of these instruments has extended now to the neighboring provinces of Las Tunas, Holguín, and Santiago de Cuba. The conjunto de órgano type of ensemble also includes pailas or tumbadoras and some idiophones, such as the guayo. They are found generally in urban and semiurban settings (Recorded Ex. 9).

The fifth type of son ensemble is made up of locally made electric string instruments (guitar and bass), claves, maracas, güiro, and cencerro. They also combine the use of bongó, tumbadoras, and pailas, which can be substituted by a set of drums and two tumbadoras. Other electrophones may be included, such as organetas and synthesizers, which are, of course, factory produced. There are relatively few groups of this type, but they constitute the sound ideal to which young urban and rural groups aspire. They are associated generally with municipal centers such as the local Casa de Cultura and Círculo Social, which assist in obtaining instruments and accessories, and provide access to electricity. Most of these groups are found in cities, though they are becoming increasingly common in rural and even mountainous areas. In some isolated places that are difficult to reach there are very accomplished groups that have developed idiosyncratic repertoires, as is the case of La Melodía, a group located in the mountainous municipality of Niceto Pérez, in Guantánamo (Recorded Ex. 10).

Needless to say, the internal dynamics and instrumental configurations of these groups are not static, but always modulated by a multiplicity of variants according to the creativity of the members and their interplay with local traditions. It can be ascertained, however, that the criteria outlined above for instrumental combinations responds to a generalized behavior that has been observed throughout the country. Traditional son groups typically play a varied repertoire of local forms and other genres and styles of traditional and modern Cuban and Caribbean music. Son (in all its generic and stylistic variations), however, forms the core of the repertoire, followed in order of significance by (2) guaracha and bolero, and by (3) the bolero-son, the romantic ballad, and merengue. Performances of punto cubano, in alternation with those outlined above, would occupy a fourth place in this hierarchy. The functional versatility of son ensembles renders them invaluable for their contribution to the development of current trends in traditional popular music.



In the urban centers of colonial Cuba, members of a family or neighborhood of even different religious affiliations would gather into what eventually became lay groups organized for purely recreational purposes. Once more, musical and choreographic expression became the focal point of these collective activities. The coros de rumba, coros de clave, or tonadas, as these groups were called, began their existence in the late nineteenth century as formal rehearsals of a particular musical genre that, in turn, spawned a repertoire each group would present to similar groups from other neighborhoods. The coros de rumba rehearsed the singing of guaguancó, while the coros de claves and tonadas practiced styles of singing closer to the Cuban canción. Some of these groups had their own locales and would raise funds to pay for materials and defray the cost of celebrations, assuming names that most often were those of the neighborhoods they represented. In Havana, for instance, some of the most famous were Paso Franco from the Carraguao neighborhood, Los Jesuitas from Colón, and Los Roncos from Pueblo Nuevo. This illustrates the interdependence that can be created between the neighborhood as a community that preserves and maintains culture, and the group as a vehicle for synthesis and expression of the community’s culture.

Within the same neighborhood context, bandos de rumba, or rumba groups, appeared in the city of Matanzas. Among them was the Bando Azul (Blues), one of the most distinguished, which was founded in 1910 and still maintains its links with tradition, though within far more limited festive practices than during its heyday (Martínez Furé 1961). Its fiestas de rumba included splendid dinners where all the participants’ behavior was subject to strict and humorous rules that were meant to be breached, resulting in fines that the offender had to pay in kind and thereby assuring the continuity of the fiesta. The Bando Azul had a vast repertoire of songs and greetings they performed during street parades and visits to competing groups. One of these, traditionally sung to celebrate the arrival of a new year, is still remembered:



These neighborhood-based groups contributed to defining models of musical and literary elaborations of rumba and their timbric-instrumental components, while recreating in the texts many of the characters and events that were important to the collective memory of the community (see La música y el pueblo under Discography).

Rumba, as a conglomerate of musico-choreographic expressions, represented a primordial or first level of synthesis between the Hispanic and African legacies, with distinctive traits that were defined already in the late nineteenth century among the poorest sectors of the population (León 1974; Linares 1974a).

According to Argeliers León (1974 in 1984: 152), “the representational character of rumba offers a ‘version’ [or changing mirror] . . . of social relations at a particular point in time.” Rumba is a reenactment of those cultural residuals retained by a sector of the population that, converging through the participants, results in a profound resignification of social relations, released from the original functions. Therein lies its secular character. “Rumba is not a caricature or distorted replica of the original [contributing] elements, but a new expression forged from what the people assimilated from them.” Thus, rumba neither secularizes a dance to Changó, nor a dance of the palero; it does not borrow or transfer these dances to different, secular circumstances. Rather, rumba assimilates the sediment of movement and gesture (cultural traits) left behind by these dances. “This ‘analysis’ reached a new synthesis; this deconstruction catalyzed a new integration; this imprint was manifested in a ‘version’.” But in this new synthesis also intervened the sediment of movement and gesture of yet other dances that kept reaching the people (their traits), and these were integrated with previous sediments. The same happened with the singing, which neither borrows nor transfers specific types of secular or religious songs to the venue of rumba, but creates a “version” of manners of singing, a “generalized singing practice” distilled from those songs to which the practitioners of rumba had had access (1974 in 1984: 152–53).

During the incipient stage, the singing was supported by spontaneous rhythmic percussion on a chair, door, bottle, or any other domestic object temporarily transformed into a musical instrument. From sideboards, drawers, and frying pans, players turned to boxes of different sizes (cajones). Some performers would improve the sonority of the cajón by taking the box apart, planing the wood, and reassembling it to eliminate cracks between boards. The polyrhythm of the cajones accompanied a solo singer who also played the claves. Cajones later were replaced by two single-headed, barrel-shaped drums, and their number soon increased to three. The three drums were assigned the generic name of tumbadoras and constitute one of the overarching contributions to the patrimony of instruments native to the Caribbean. Although the organological ancestry of these drums, whose bodies were made of staves, can be traced to the ngoma drums used by different ethnic groups of the Bantu linguistic family, they underwent many transformations in adapting to the expressive imperatives of Cuban rumba (Fig. 8). This ensemble was further enlarged by adding another player who would strike the wooden body (cáscara) of one of the drums with two sticks. Later, the rhythmic patterns of the cáscara were played on a small hollowed tree trunk suspended from a wooden frame that became the “Chinese little box,” or catá.

Fig. 8: Tumbadoras of the guaguancó group Los Primos from Matanzas. Photo courtesy of Cuba’s Ministry of Culture and Juan Manuel Villar Paredes.

The instruments replicated their distribution into timbric bands characteristic of African-derived drumming. In rumba, however, the improvisational role assigned to the lowest drum in ensembles of African antecedents is reversed, shifting from the low to the high register, which is carried by the quinto (or tumbadora playing in the upper register) and its player, the quinteador. León attributes this fundamental change in the expressive behavior of the drums in rumba to the loss of the functionality they carried in ritual contexts (1974 in 1984: 155). More importantly, this displacement of the improvisatory function toward the drum in the upper register affixed the logic of pitch distribution of a European musical discourse to an African performance praxis, and this happened with American (that is, Cuban tumbadoras), not African, drums. Consequently, the most complex rhythmic designs and elaborations, inextricably bound to the choreographic gestures of the dancer(s), were now the function of the quinto, or highest-pitched tumbadora. The function of the catá added to the ensemble of tumbadoras was to carry the metric-rhythmic guide in the higher timbric range of the instrumental toque.

The danced expression in rumba intervenes as a “number” or “act” within the representational character of the entire fiesta. Every rumba starts with an exposition by the singer that assumes the shape of a proposal, followed by the intervention of the chorus. The dance then “intervenes” when either a couple or a male solo dancer (as in the case of rumba columbia) breaks the circle of spectators / participants (rompen la rumba). This unfolds in a “three-act” sequence whose variants determine the different modalities of rumba.

Among the oldest modalities of rumba is the yambú, characterized by a slow tempo and restraint in its rhythmic elaborations, with a syllabic introductory section or lalaleo intoned between soloist and chorus, and a final refrain in more accelerated tempo. The dance is sinuous and mimetic, characterized by the carefree movements of the woman. Dancers would adopt the demeanor of old age, mimicking infirmities through difficulty of movement. Consequently, this dance would preclude the ubiquitous vacunao, or pelvic thrust symbolizing the act of sexual possession, and therein the freedom of the woman, who dances unafraid of the man’s vacunao. This inspired the popular refrain, “En yambú no se vacuna” (no “vaccination” in yambú). The practice of yambú began to decline some years ago. At the turn of the twentieth century, this modality of rumba is performed almost exclusively by professional dance groups. Although reenacting them in the artificial context of professional stages, these groups also are preserving mimetic dances from ancient rumbas that gradually lost currency in the neighborhoods from which they originated. Some traditional rumba ensembles still preserve the yambú in their repertoires. This is the case of a yambú performed by the group Afrocuba from Matanzas in 1985, utilizing two cajones (salidor and repicador), claves, and the guagua beat played with two spoons (Alén Rodríguez and Casanova Oliva 1999) (Recorded Ex. 11).

The columbia, another modality of rumba, tends to be faster and its rhythm is more elaborate and segmented. In the introductory section, a series of interjections and phrases in African languages inspire the singer to develop a text that is generally satirical and humorous, based on fanciful and far-fetched tales. Once the soloist has completed the exposition, an alternation of solo / chorus establishes the motion toward a climax distinguished by the complexity of the rhythmic improvisation, acceleration of tempo, and the display of virtuosity on the part of the male dancer, whose acrobatic gestures respond with precision to the challenge or duel imposed by the rhythmic locutions of the quinteador (Recorded Ex. 12).

The most important modality that emerged from the representational domain of rumba is the guaguancó, which is also the most widespread. Practiced throughout Cuban territory, it features two fundamentally different styles of interpretation: habanero (Recorded Ex. 13) and matancero (from Matanzas, Recorded Ex. 14). The singing centers on a narrative dealing with events of daily life and usually begins with a syllabic lalaleo, also called diana, followed by a narration structured in octosyllabic décimas, or sometimes in paired and even free verses. It is also frequent practice for a second singer to “cut in” or “snatch the stage” to refute what the first singer was saying, or, conversely, to support the story with his own imagery. Once the theme has been settled, the soloist cues the entrance of the chorus, establishing an alternation that ushers in the montuno or capetillo, the climactic section featuring the dancers in a symbolic game of attraction and rejection until the man successfully performs a vacunao, or pelvic thrust, that the woman is unable to elude. Guaguancó, which is faster than yambú and slower than columbia, probably appropriated the vacunao from some of its predecessors, as, for instance, the yuka and makuta dances brought to Cuba by ethnic groups of Bantu affiliation. “La perla del Caribe” (named after the poetic reference to Cuba as “pearl” of the Caribbean) is a collective composition by the group Lomydé from Cienfuegos that illustrates the style of guaguancó that Havana rumberos identify as “proper” (Alén Rodríguez and Casanova Oliva 1999) (Recorded Ex. 13). “Madre Patria” (Recorded Ex. 14) is a guaguancó matancero performed in 1985 by the group Afrocuba. From the conglomerate of modalities that rumba spawned, columbia and guaguancó have survived as living folk music, but only the latter has retained its popularity and vigor at the present time. In addition to a present-day tendency to create rumba groups that, departing from their traditional settings, cultivate rumba for artistic or educational shows, there are still family or neighborhood groups that organize a rumba to celebrate important events in their lives or religious commemorations. It is also common to celebrate with rumba the saint’s day of one of the group’s members.

The neighborhood, or the cultural community it represents, also gave rise to unique types of groups and forms of musical and choreographic expression that are revitalized yearly during carnival. Such is the case of the comparsas (festive retinues), the most traditional form of organizing the participation of neighborhoods in street processionals and official parades during the celebration of carnival in Havana and other cities of western Cuba. As representations of neighborhoods, the comparsa is a fiesta traslaticia, or open-air representation by parading actors who play, sing, and dance. Like rumba, the term comparsa carries a surplus of meaning. Fernando Ortiz (1951) defined comparsa as a group of masked performers with a common plan to represent a collective theme, such as the reenactment of a folk story, a one-act ambulant play, or a processional step. Elaborating on the inherently representational character of comparsas, Argeliers León defines them as outdoor reenactments by parading actors that, resignifying ancestral meanings, became emblematic identifiers of neighborhoods. (See Argeliers León and María Teresa Linares, “The Comparsa in Cuba,” in this volume.)

Among the most famous and classic comparsas are “El Alacrán,” “Los Marqueses de Atarés,” “Los Componedores de Bateas,” “Los Dandis,” “Las Boyeras,” and “Los Guaracheros de Regla.” Called comparsas in Havana and Santiago de Cuba, these groups are known as parrandas in the Province of Villa Clara and charangas in Bejucal (Province of La Habana). The most memorable parrandas of the central region surface in the annual encounters between El Carmen and San Salvador neighborhoods in the city of Remedios, where imagination and creativity abound in the fashioning of costumes, floats, lanterns, other display objects, fireworks, and in the monumentality of the overall conception. The famous charangas from Bejucal are renowned for the ingenuity displayed in the construction of floats. Moreover, the comparsas and congas parading during carnival celebrations in Santiago de Cuba preserve traditions as ancient as the “canto del Cocoyé,” whose origin goes back to a now-extinct tumba francesa society; the instrumental toques of the tahona (now a type of rural comparsa); and the hierarchical structure of king, queen, and court typical of the old cabildos de nación (initially societies of African-born individuals belonging to the same ethnic group or “nation”), which has been retained by two traditional comparsas, the “Carabalí Isuama” from El Tívoli neighborhood, and “Carabalí Olugo” from Los Hoyos (see Carnaval en Santiago and Semblanza de Santiago I under Discography).

Each of the paradigmatic comparsas mentioned above constitutes a relatively stable group of musicians, dancers, and other individuals who reenact the actions and characters that identify that particular carnival retinue either with local tradition, or with costumbrista themes and issues of current interest chosen for each annual representation. In this context, music assumes maximum significance because the songs and instrumental toques not only support the rhythmic and coordinated displacement of the dancers, but also have become defining elements of group identity. The instrumental ensembles display a vast array of membranophones and iron idiophones, such as tumbadoras, bombos, redoblantes, ekones, and cencerros, while also resorting to other metallic implements to increase the volume of the accompanying rhythm, such as sartenes (frying pans), iron railings, hoeblades, and automobile tire rims converted into musical instruments. In Cuba, drum makers introduced the conga, a single-headed membranophone made of staves and iron hoops, known in Santiago de Cuba as bocú. Its design and construction are such that it is easy to carry along the streets while producing a very powerful sound. In some cases, trumpets and trombones are used to reinforce the melodic singing. Moreover, the congas of Santiago de Cuba have incorporated the shrill and piercing sound of the corneta china (a suona or double-reed aerophone defined by Sibyl Marcuse as “the oboe of the Chinese population of Cuba” [1964: 537]). It would be impossible to imagine the boisterous sound of a carnival’s conga in the fiery region of Santiago de Cuba without the peculiarly strident and nasal sound of the corneta china. Its acoustical properties, especially the penetratingly high sound that can be heard at great distances, made it the ideal instrument to lead the collective singing at huge gatherings such as carnival. Here the corneta china joined the idiophones and membranophones of the congas’ instrumental ensemble (Vinueza 1992). It also signals the beginning of the parade with a diana, or call, that is unique to each group. (See also María Teresa Linares, “The Chinese Presence in Cuba,” in this volume.) The songs rely on simple, short musical structures that are quickly memorized by both comparseros and spectators who may join a passing conga or a comparsa in the concert of colors and sounds that is carnival.


Alén Rodríguez, Olavo 1986. La música de las sociedades de tumba francesa en Cuba. La Habana: Casa de las Américas—Ministerio de Cultura.

Alén Rodríguez, Olavo, and Ana Casanova Oliva 1999. Liner notes for Official retrospective of Cuban music, produced by Jon Griffin. Los Angeles: Tonga Productions and Salsa Blanca, 8 CDs, TNG4CD-9303.

Andrés Bermúdez, Armando 1968. “La expansión del espiritismo de cordón,” Etnología y folklore (La Habana), 5.

Argüelles Mederos, Aníbal, and Ileana Hodge Limonta 1991. Los llamados cultos sincréticos y el espiritismo. La Habana: Editorial Academia.

Barnet, Miguel 2001. Afro-Cuban religions, trans. by Christine Renata Ayorinde. Princeton: Markus Wiener Publishers. English translation of Cultos afrocubanos: La Regla de Ocha, la Regla de Palo Monte (Ciudad de La Habana: Ediciones Unión—Artex, 1995).

Centro de Investigación y Desarrollo de la Música Cubana, Olavo Alén Rodríguez, Director, 1997. Instrumentos de la música foclórico-popular de Cuba, 2 vols. and Atlas, by Victoria Eli Rodríguez, with Ana Victoria Casanova Oliva, Jesús Guanche Pérez, Zobeyda Ramos Venereo, Carmen María Sáenz Coopat, Laura Delia Vilar Álvarez, and María Elena Vinueza González. La Habana: Editorial de Ciencias Sociales—Empresa Geocuba, Ediciones Geo.

Esquenazi, Martha 1977. “Los cantos de altares,” Revista Revolución y cultura (La Habana), 60 (August).

 _________________ 1990. “Duérmete mi niño: Cantos de cuna tradicionales.” La Habana: Unpublished monograph.

 _________________ 1991. Ariborere: Cantos de trabajo tradicionales. La Habana: Centro Cultural “Juan Marinello.”

García-Carranza, Araceli, compiler 1970. Bio-bibliografía de Don Fernando Ortiz. La Habana: Biblioteca Nacional “José Martí”—Instituto del Libro.

García Lorca, Federico 1930 in 1961. “Canciones de cuna,” Actas del folklore (La Habana) 1/9: 5–24 (“Las nanas infantiles,” lecture delivered by García Lorca during his visit to Cuba in the spring of 1930).

Lachatañeré, Rómulo 1992. El sistema religioso de los afrocubanos. La Habana: Editorial de Ciencias Sociales.

León, Argeliers 1971. “Del eje y la bisagra,” Música (Boletín de Casa de las Américas, La Habana) 14–15: 3–10.

 _________________ 1972a. “El ovillo y la madeja,” Música (Boletín de Casa de las Américas, La Habana) 21: 9–19.

 _________________ 1972b. “Notas para un panorama de la música popular cubana,” Música (Boletín de Casa de las Américas, La Habana) 24: 4–14.

 _________________ 1972c. “Del acto y el resultado,” Música (Boletín de Casa de las Américas, La Habana) 26: 9–21.

 _________________ 1973. “Historia para la historia,” Música (Boletín de Casa de las Américas, La Habana) 43.

 _________________ 1974. Del canto y el tiempo. La Habana: Editorial Pueblo y Educación. Second edition (La Habana: Editorial Letras Cubanas, 1984).

 _________________ 1976. “La circunvalación del paisaje,” Música (Boletín de Casa de las Américas, La Habana) 59: 5–14.

 _________________ 1977. “Confrontar la existencia de una música latinoamericana como realidad estéticamente identificable,” Música (Boletín de Casa de las Américas, La Habana) 66: 28–32.

 _________________ 1980. “Un haz que se integra fuerte por el junco que todos aportan,” Música (Boletín de Casa de las Américas, La Habana) 83–84: 44–55.

 _________________ 1986. “Continuidad cultural africana en América,” Anales del Caribe (La Habana) 6.

Linares, María Teresa 1970. La música popular. La Habana: Instituto del Libro.

 _________________ 1972. “La décima y el punto en el folklore de Cuba,” Música (Boletín de Casa de las Américas, La Habana) 31: 2–8. Reprinted in Ensayos de música latinoamericana: Selección del Boletín de música de la Casa de las Américas (La Habana: Casa de las Américas, 1982, 246–53 [Colección Nuestros países, serie Música]).

 _________________ 1974a. La música y el pueblo. La Habana: Editorial Pueblo y Educación.

 _________________ 1974b. “El sucu-sucu: Un caso en el área del Caribe,” Música (Boletín de Casa de las Américas, La Habana) 44: 2–13.

López Valdés, Rafael 1985. Componentes africanos en el etnos cubano. La Habana: Editorial de Ciencias Sociales.

 _________________ 1986. “Presencia étnica de los esclavos de Tinguabos (Guantánamo), entre los años 1789 y 1844,” Revista Biblioteca Nacional “José Martí” (La Habana), tercera época 28/3 (September–December).

Marcuse, Sibyl 1964. Musical instruments: A comprehensive dictionary. New York: Doubleday.

Martínez Furé, Rogelio 1961. “El Bando Azul,” Actas del folklore (La Habana) 1/7: 21–23.

Orozco, Danilo 1986. Liner notes for Antología integral del son, Vol.1. La Habana: EGREM LD-286-287.

Ortiz, Fernando 1921. Los cabildos afrocubanos. La Habana: Imprenta y Papelería La Universal.

 _________________ 1922. Historia de la arqueología indocubana. La Habana: Imprenta El Siglo XX.

 _________________ 1924. Glosario de afronegrismos, with a prologue by Juan M. Dihigo. La Habana: Imprenta El Siglo XX.

 _________________ 1925. La fiesta afrocubana del “Día de Reyes.” La Habana: Imprenta El Siglo XX.

 _________________ 1940. Contrapunteo cubano del tabaco y el azúcar; advertencia de sus contrastes agrarios, económicos, históricos y sociales, su etnografía y su transculturación. Prólogo de Herminio Portell Vilá; introducción por Bronislaw Malinovski. La Habana: J. Montero (Biblioteca de Historia, Filosofía y Sociología, 8). English translation by Harriet de Onís as Cuban counterpoint: Tobacco and sugar (New York: A. A. Knopf, 1947).

 _________________ 1950. La africanía de la música folklórica de Cuba. La Habana: Ministerio de Educación, Dirección de Cultura.

 _________________ 1951. Los bailes y el teatro de los negros en el folklore de Cuba. La Habana: Ministerio de Educación, Dirección de Cultura.

 _________________ 1952–1955. Los instrumentos de la música afrocubana. La Habana: Publicaciones de la Dirección de Cultura del Ministerio de Educación, 5 vols.

Pérez Fernández, Rolando Antonio 1987. La binarización de los ritmos ternarios africanos en América Latina. La Habana: Casa de las Américas—Establecimiento 08 “Mario Reguera.”

Poncet y Cárdenas, Carolina 1985. Investigaciones y apuntes literarios. La Habana: Editorial Letras Cubanas.

Ramos Venereo, Zobeyda 1987. “Complejo genérico del punto.” La Habana: CIDMUC (Música popular tradicional de Cuba, 3). Monograph available through the Centro de Investigación y Desarrollo de la Música Cubana.

Sáenz Coopat, Carmen María 1991. “Acercamiento a la caracterización de las agrupaciones de la música popular tradicional cubana.” La Habana: CIDMUC. Monograph available through the Centro de Investigación y Desarrollo de la Música Cubana.

Sáenz Coopat, Carmen María, and Laura Vilar 1987. “Estudios musicológicos: Provincia de La Habana.” La Habana: CIDMUC. Monograph available through the Centro de Investigación y Desarrollo de la Música Cubana.

Vinueza, María Elena 1989. Presencia arará en la música folclórica de Matanzas. La Habana: Editorial Casa de las Américas.

Vinueza, María Elena, and Carmen María Sáenz Coopat 1984. “El aporte africano en la formación de la cultura musical cubana.” La Habana: CIDMUC. Monograph available through the Centro de Investigación y Desarrollo de la Música Cubana.


EGREM (Empresa de Grabaciones Musicales)

“Viejos cantos afrocubanos,” Antología de la música afrocubana, vol. 1. Production and liner notes by María Teresa Linares. La Habana, EGREM LD-3325 (1981).

“Oru de Igbodu,” Antología de la música afrocubana, vol. 2. Production and liner notes by María Teresa Linares. La Habana, EGREM LD-3995 (1981).

“Música lyesá,” Antología de la música afrocubana, vol. 3. Production by María Teresa Linares, liner notes by Argeliers León. La Habana, EGREM LD-3747 (1981).

“Música Arará,” Antología de la música afrocubana, vol. 4. Production by María Teresa Linares, liner notes by María Elena Vinueza. La Habana, EGREM LD-3996 (1981).

“Tambor Yuka,” Antología de la música afrocubana, vol. 5. Production by María Teresa Linares, liner notes by Martha Esquenazi. La Habana, EGREM LD-3994 (1981).

“Fiesta de bembé,” Antología de la música afrocubana, vol. 6. Production by María Teresa Linares, liner notes by Carmen María Sáenz Coopat. La Habana, EGREM LD-3997 (1981).

“Tumba francesa,” Antología de la música afrocubana, vol. 7. Production by Danilo Orozco, liner notes by Olavo Alén Rodríguez. La Habana, EGREM LD-3606 (recorded in 1976).

“Toque de güiros,” Antología de la música afrocubana, vol. 8. Production and liner notes by Ana Victoria Casanova Oliva. La Habana: EGREM LD-4483 (1988).

“Congos,” Antología de la música afrocubana, vol. 9. Production and liner notes by María Elena Vinueza. La Habana, EGREM LD-4493 (1989).

Antología integral del son, vol. I: Bases históricas. Production and liner notes by Danilo Orozco. La Habana, EGREM LD-286 and LD-287 (Special scientific and historicocultural series) (1986).

Cancionero hispanocubano. Production and liner notes by María Teresa Linares. La Habana, EGREM LDA-3326.

Carnaval en Santiago. Produced by Enrique Bonne. La Habana, EGREM LD-212.

La música y el pueblo. Production and liner notes by María Teresa Linares. La Habana, EGREM 3/1, LD-3440; 3/2, LD-3441.

Official retrospective of Cuban music, 8 CDs, produced by Jon Griffin with liner notes by Olavo Alén Rodríguez and Ana Casanova Oliva. Los Angeles: Tonga Productions and Salsa Blanca, TNG4CD-9303 (1999).

Semblanza musical de Santiago I. La Habana, EGREM LD-214.


Courtesy of the Centro de Investigación y Desarrollo de la Música Cubana (CIDMUC), Olavo Alén Rodríguez, Director, unless otherwise indicated.

1 .“Canto de altar” (song for the altar de promesa ceremony). Recorded in El Güirito, Municipality of Baracoa, Province of Guantánamo (1984).

2. “Canto de transmisión a los santos” (song to communicate with saints) from the repertoire of cantos de espiritismo cruzado (“hybrid” type of spiritism) performed by Irma Chano. Recorded in the Municipality of Media Luna, Granma Province (1987).

3. Canto de despedida, “Madre de Agua” (farewell song, “Mother of the Waters”) from the repertoire of cantos de espiritismo cruzado (“hybrid” type of spiritism) performed by Irma Chano. Recorded in the Municipality of Media Luna, Granma Province (1987).

4. “El conde niño,” romance performed by Ariel García. Recorded in Punta de Maisí, Guantánamo Province (1983).

5. Tonada performed by the tonadista Regla Veloz and the Conjunto Campesino Cucalambé. Recorded in the Municipality of Colón, Province of Matanzas (1983).

6. Punto libre (in free meter) or pinareño accompanied by tres, as performed by Eusebio Ribera. Recorded in the Province of Pinar del Río (1984).

7. Punto fijo (in fixed or regular meter), a tonada espirituana (from the area of Sancti Spiritus) performed by the Conjunto Campesino XX Aniversario. Recorded in the Municipality of Cumanayagua, Province of Cienfuegos (1984).

8. Punto de parranda performed by the group Alegría y Juventud. Recorded in the Municipality of Florencia, Province of Ciego de Ávila (1988).

9. “El Jorocón,” pieza de órgano performed by the melcocha ensemble Sonero Campesino, with accordion substituting for the portative organ. Recorded in the Municipality of Niquero, Granma Province (1987).

10. “Querida paloma,” son montuno performed by the group La Melodía. Recorded in the Municipality of Niceto Pérez, in Guantánamo (1984).

11. “Yambú” performed by the group Afrocuba from Matanzas, vol. I, track 13 in Official retrospective of Cuban music, 8 CDs produced by Jon Griffin with liner notes by Olavo Alén Rodríguez and Ana Casanova Oliva. Los Angeles: Tonga Productions and Salsa Blanca, TNG4CD-9303 (1999). Reproduced by permission from Jon Griffin.

12. “Martínez Campos decía,” columbia performed by the group Rumbolero from La Habana, vol. 1, track 15 in Official retrospective of Cuban music, 8 CDs produced by Jon Griffin with liner notes by Olavo Alén Rodríguez and Ana Casanova Oliva. Los Angeles: Tonga Productions and Salsa Blanca, TNG4CD-9303 (1999). Reproduced by permission from Jon Griffin.

13. “La perla del Caribe,” guaguancó in habanero style, a collective composition by the group Lomydé from Cienfuegos, vol. 1, track 14 in Official retrospective of Cuban music, 8 CDs produced by Jon Griffin with liner notes by Olavo Alén Rodríguez and Ana Casanova Oliva. Los Angeles: Tonga Productions and Salsa Blanca, TNG4CD-9303 (1999). Reproduced by permission from Jon Griffin.

14. “Madre Patria,” guaguancó matancero performed by the group Afrocuba. Recorded in Matanzas (1985).