Exploring The Music Of Cuba

Exploring The Music Of Cuba

Cuba is a Caribbean island that has developed a variety of creolized musical techniques originating from African and European cultures.

During the 19th century, Cuban music was no longer limited to the barriers of the island but also extended throughout the world. This is even considered the most popular type of “world music” ever since the emergence of musical recording systems.

History of Cuban Tunes

Cuba’s folk music was basically unknown until the year 1800. This was the time when Cubans were known to enjoy entertainment by playing conch shells and wooden instruments.

They also used other tools such as wooden flutes, shakers, and drums to create songs. The 1800s was also when symphonies and operas were recorded to be performed in a number of churches in the nation. Dance pieces were written which paved the way for the birth of classic concert melodies.

Prior to that, Cubans were influenced by the music of the Spaniards since the 1500s. European art was brought to Cuba as Spaniards colonized the island. The Catholic Church was documented and there is even evidence of the use of organs, string instruments, and choirs.

Cuban Harmonies Today

Soon after sacred drums, music, and dances were performed and played during ceremonies, the modernization of the musical styles in Cuba began to take place. Today, there are a huge number of popular Cuban musical modes recognized in many parts of the world including the United States.

The music of Cuba can be distinguished from other types because the rhythm is mostly formed by using distinct instruments like claves, guiros, maracas, cowbells, and the thumb piano. There are also different drums used such as the large conga and bongos. Instruments derived from European styles are also employed from time to time. It is important to note that there is a special rhythm played in Cuban music called the “clave rhythm”. This sets the speed of the harmony of Cuban music and sustains it.

Popular Vocal and Instrumental Sounds

Musical theatre started around the 18th century and this allowed many musicians and composers to have their careers launched through theatrical performances.

As a matter of fact, most of the famous compositions from local performers aired first on stage. The Cubans primarily staged a number of operas from European countries but they later developed their own ideas to better suit their audiences.

Zarzuela is originally from Spain but this light operetta arrangement grew into a commentary about the political and social events in Cuba as well as its problems. Comedy performances are a favorite and one of the most well-known types is the Bufo Theatre.

It is coarse and satirical with stock characters that imitate people. Famous ones include El Negrito which is a white actor playing a black boy character and La Mulata who is a mulatto woman.

Other popular musical forms of music on the island include guaracha, trova, cancion, bolero, and musica campesina. Of course, there are other more famous types of music and dance styles particularly mambo, salsa, and waltz. Jazz, rap, and hip hop are also a part of Cuban entertainment.

Notable Performers

There are many names that are easily recognizable in the music industry that came from Cuba. One of them is Damaso Perez Prado who is more popularly known as El Rey del Mambo (King of Mambo). In 1943, this artist developed the concept of mambo which he claimed came about after sessions of musicians sitting around and playing their instruments. Mambo, according to its creator, is a type of Afro-Cuban harmony that has a taste of American swing.

Another famous performer is Celia Cruz whose career began in Cuba where she was born. At first, her group did not fare well because audiences were not ready for her style.

Still, her perseverance dominated the obstacles. She eventually became a permanent member of the Sonora Matancera Orchestra. They traveled throughout Mexico and Latin America. In 1966, she left her country to pursue her dream in the United States. She released more than 8 albums and even teamed up with other musical legends from around the world.

The AfroCuba Matanzas is a very well-liked folklore group on the Caribbean island. They performed customary dances, songs, and percussion. The group is recognized not only in Cuba but throughout the world due to their broad spectrum of Afro-Cuban tradition.

In addition, they handcrafted their own instruments utilizing ancient methods and original materials to create an authentic sound.

Probably the most recognized name on the list of Cuban performers is Gloria Estefan. She is not only a singer but also an actress and a songwriter. She is often dubbed as the Queen of Latin Pop and has sold more than 100 million albums around the world. 31.5 million of her fans come from the United States alone. This Grammy award winning Cuban-born performer is considered the most successful crossover entertainer in Latin music up until now.

Pitbull or Armando Christian Perez is also making a name for himself in the international music scene. Though he was born in America, both of his parents are Cuban. Pitbull is a record producer and a singer-songwriter well known for his collaborations with many international artists.

Cuba proudly celebrates art and music through festivals. There are jazz festivals, local performances, hip-hop shows, rock concerts, and live Cuban contemporary fusion.

Additionally, Cuba commemorates its musical roots and appreciation for global success through the first Cuban International Music Festival which is now held annually.


  • http://www.insightcuba.com Ryan

    Nice article on Cuban Music. I wasn’t familiar with the different distinctive instruments…one being the thumb piano. Are you a musician by chance?

  • http://knowaboutcuba.com/ Jon

    @Ryan, thanks for your comment. Yes, I’m a musician – have been for the better part of the last 15 years :)

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