10/06/13 - Havana Times - The Rumba Is Also Cuba
Dariela Aquique (Photos: Caridad)
Los Muñequitos de Matanzas
HAVANA TIMES The institutions from this country have taken on the
delicate project of preserving the most identifiable features of our
cultural arsenal. The most notable example is that of having declared the
Rumba part of our national cultural patrimony. And it is precisely to this
family of Cuban musical rhythms and dance style that I want to dedicate
The Rumba can be found everywhere: on the corner, on a Sunday afternoon,
when a group of friends get together and beat out the rhythm on the
chairs, or on the domino table; in a patio of Havana or Matanzas; or in
the crowded poor neighborhood housing of Santiago or Guantanamo.
It appears in the repertories of our musicians, fused with other beats. It
makes everyone move their legs and hips, from the children to elderly
ladies and the dance experts. Or it moves the foreign tourists to invent
not-so-well coordinated steps.
After consulting such websites as lajiribilla.cu, cubarte.cult.cu, and
guije.com, and as a spectator of so many explosions of rumba, I came to a
conclusion: like the Son or the Trova, its one of the musical styles that
most identify us in the world. The Rumba is Cuba.
This musical complex has African roots. It originated in Cuba during the
Spanish colonial period as a folkloric dance, made up of beats, songs,
dances and pantomimes. This also coincided with the period of expansion
of the sugar crop.
Its one of our musical manifestations with the greatest popular and
traditional prestige. Its principal protagonists were the freed blacks and
their descendents from different African ethnicities such as the Lucumí,
Gangá, Arará and perhaps the most important of all, the Gangá-Bantú.
There are historical references to this music from the 18^th and 19^th
centuries, associated with places like workers barracks and rural
dwellings, as well as in suburban zones like the outbuildings of the sugar
refineries or the villages that sprang up around the sugar mills. The men
realized aggressive dances known as the peanut dance, which could be
considered as very primitive rumbas.
They were accompanied by a group of three very primitive lay drums which
were beaten with some type of metal instruments, such as the hoes with
which they plowed. There were other, very erotic couples dances called
macutas, which may have been the basis for other Rumba styles like the
contemporary Guaguancó which has a more urban character.
>From that time on, the rumba became synonymous with parties where there
was dancing and singing, but where there was also food and alcoholic
beverages. Or sometimes Oricha, a deity, was called down, so that it also
had a religious connotation.
History and Development
Originally a folkloric Afro-Cuban dance that served as a fertility dance,
in the 17^th century it formed the basis of a ballroom dance with the
Cuban son as a starting point. It was danced in taverns, bars and similar
places of the era.
It became more widely popular in the first decades of the 20^th century.
Our Anglo-Saxon friends typically used the word rumba to denominate nearly
all the Cuban dances, without noting the differences.
Actually, rumba is a collective term that encompasses a great variety of
dance forms. Many of the forms that later developed were limited only to
Cuba. The sugar plantations in Havana and Matanzas were the principal
centers of evolution of the Rumba.
Los Muñequitos de Matanzas
Los Muñequitos de Matanzas
It arrived in Europe in 1930, commercialized via New York where it had
already taken on various elements of Jazz, thanks to our emblematic Chano
Pozo. Chano, a dancer and drummer, who in 1946 moved to the United States,
became among other things a dancer with Katherine Duna and a percussionist
with the Dizzy Gillespie orchestra where he introduced these Cuban
Some of the songs that the Gillespie band recorded with Chano Pozo, such
as Cubana Be-Cubana Bop, or Manteca, Woodyn You, AfroCubano Suite
or Algo Bueno are potpourris of different rhythms that owe a lot to our
During the Third Reich the Rumba was prohibited and interest began falling
off in other countries. Following the Second World War, however, there was
a rebirth of this fascinating dance. From 1956 until 1958 and from 1961 to
1963, two Rumba Wars were waged between Great Britain and France to
standardize their variations of the Rumba. The fight ended with the
decision of the international committees to accept both variants.
In Cuba, this always has been and always will be something very special.
The songs often speak of the daily life of working class people of color.
Three principal rumba styles can be distinguished : El Yambú, the Columbia
(typical of Matanzas) and the Guaguancó (typical of Havana).
The Yambú: with urban origins, this appears to be one of the oldest
styles, since the references to it date from the middle of the 19^th
century. Its tempo is slow and begins with a choral lalalaio called the
Later the soloist sings some verses, called the Decimar, although often
this structure has nothing to do with the Spanish poetical form also
called the decima.
The chorus responds once more with the distinctive lalalaiyo and they
continue alternating between the soloist and the chorus until the refrain
comes in, where a couple dances. The dance is soft with ceremonious
movements representing a woman flirting with the man. Its worth noting
that in the Yambú the spotlight is on the woman, with the male dancer
relegated to a secondary role.
The Columbia: is generally a dance of men only, although there are some
women who became famous for interpreting this style. This variation
undoubtedly had a rural origin. For the great Rumba dancers and musicians,
the Columbia style evokes the countryside, especially the area of
The songs may take their inspiration from a large variety of topics, but
are expressed in brief unpolished phrases, with an abundance of African
expressions, as is natural in the creation of a human art form that arose
from the cane plantations or the sugar mill barracks.
Its structure soloist-chorus is the same as the other rumba styles,
and presents two clearly defined parts. The singing part, the Llorao, is
characteristic of the Columbia and consists of a series of laments or
exclamations of pain that the singer or Rooster lets loose with in the
middle of his verses. The second part is the dancing part, called the
When the moment of the dance arrives, one of the participants in the party
gestures for permission to dance and after clearing a space for him or
herself amidst those present and saluting the drummers, the dancer shows
off his dancing abilities.
Later another dancer will step in to substitute, attempting to better
his/her dance moves. The Game or style of the dancers is legs and
shoulders, maintaining an erect position, while many times also balancing
a glass or drink bottle on their heads.
In some areas of the countryside they are accustomed to dancing with
machetes or knives in their hands. The tempo of the Columbia is rapid
but well seated.
The Guaguancó: is the most elaborate, in terms of both the music and the
words. Its a dance that is typical of the black neighborhoods of Havana.
Its sung entirely in Spanish instead of using African expressions or
slang expressions from the poorer barrios.
Los Muñequitos de Matanzas
Los Muñequitos de Matanzas
As far as the words go, the guaguancó bears a close relationship to the
Cuban punto (point), the form that the musical improvisations from the
Canary Islands and Andalucia took on in Cuba. The tempo of the guaguancó
is slightly slower than that of the Columbia but faster than the Yambú.
The guaguancó also bears some musical relation with the Flamencan Cante
The theme is frequently tragic, or at least melancholic. The dance
represents a man engaged in an amorous persecution of a woman: he desiring
to Vaccinate her (an erotic pelvic movement) and she trying humorously
to protect herself from the attack. In this deeply voluptuous
representation of persecution and flight, the dance partners show off
their dancing skills.
What instruments are used in the Rumba?
The musical instruments used to play the rumba are simple: three dueling
drums of staves lightly held together, respectively called the Quinto
(fifth), the Salidor(argumentative) y the Tres Golpes (three blows).
Then there is a pair of metallic marugas (nkembi) that the drummer of the
quinto uses on his wrists in the Columbia style, and a pair of nails,
or sticks that the singer strikes together to mark the beat.
Generally in the Yambú and sometimes in the Guaguancó two boxes or wooden
containers are used. The smaller one, almost always made out of a small
candle box, has a higher sound and serves as the Quinto; the larger, one
of those large containers used to bring cod in to market, has a lower
sound and serves as a bass drum.
Added to this are beaten spoons, taps on the doors and on anything that
lets the rumba players enhance their rhythm.
End of the story
The best known Rumba groups in Cuba are Lolo Yonkori, directed by Alberto
Sayas, Celeste Mendoza y su grupo de Guaguancó, Clave y guaguancó directed
by Dedo, the Grupo de guaguancó with Carlos Embales as the singer, Los
Papines, and Los Muñequitos de Matanzas.
In our country there isnt a single town that doesnt have a group or a
place to hear Rumba and to mention all of them would create a very long
list. But I wouldnt want to omit group, Yoruba Andabo, that has managed
to create true symphonies with their rumba arrangements.
Although Havana and Matanzas are still the great Rumba capitals in Cuba,
this style is played and danced all over the country. Among blacks and
whites, among smoothies and the sophisticated, by the unschooled and the
university professor, by everyone, because the Rumba is also Cuba.
Original Source / Fuente Original:
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