The word Arará and its cognates, Rada (Haiti, Trinidad) and Arrada (Carriacou), are derived from Allada, a city in Dahomey. Arará cabildos (ethnic associations) were formed in the 17th century, and regional cultural differences still exist among Arará communities in Cuba which date back to Africa (Arará Dajomé, Arará Sabalú, and Arará Magino). The name Sabalú derives from Savalu, a town in northern Dahomey, and "Magino" derives from Mahi. Slaves from these areas were taken to other parts of the Americas. Surviving examples of Dahomeyan culture (such as music and religion) can be found in Haiti, the Grenadines, and the Brazilian cities of Sáo Luis do Maranháo, Salvador, Recife, and Porto Alegre.
Haitian emigres began arriving in Cuba in the late 1790s following the Haitian slave rebellion of 1791, when many French moved to Cuba and took African slaves with them. The Haitians brought musical forms with them, such as tumba francesa and Dahomean ceremonial drums.
Arará music is characterized by particular percussive styles, including drumming, hand clapping and body percussion. Instruments include the ogan (an iron bell) which may be replaced with a guataca (hoe blade), cachimbo (smallest drum, highest pitch), mula (medium drum), and caja (largest drum, lowest pitch). The drums are single-headed and closed on the bottom, tuned with pegs. Other names for these drums are also used in some parts of Cuba, such as hungan for the caja. The lead is played with a stick and a hand, while the others are played with pairs of sticks by seated players.