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This article is about the Afro-Cuban music and dance rhythms. For other uses, see Rumba (disambiguation).
For the Anahí's song, see Rumba (Anahí song).
Rumba dance pattern.[1]

Rumba is a family of percussive rhythms, song and ballroom dance that originated in Cuba as a combination of various musical traditions. The name derives from the Cuban Spanish word rumbo which means "party" or "spree". It is secular, with no religious connections.[2] People of African descent in Havana and Matanzas originally used the word rumba as a synonym for party.[3] Olavo Alén states that over time, "rumba ceased to be simply another word for party and took on the meaning both of a defined Cuban musical genre and also of a very specific form of dance."[4] The term spread in the 1930s and 1940s to the faster popular music of Cuba (the "Peanut Vendor" was a classic), where it was used as a catch-all term, rather like salsa today. Also, the term is used in the international Latin-American dance syllabus, but in reference to a slower dance based on the bolero-son. Ballroom rumba, or rhumba, is essentially son as opposed to the older folkloric rumba. Similarly, the African style of pop music called African Rumba or soukous is also son-based.

The term is also used today for various styles of popular music from Spain, as part of the so-called Cantes de ida y vuelta, or music that developed between both sides of the Atlantic. Flamenco rumba is a genre that is entirely different from Cuban rumba.


  • Cuban Rumba, percussion, song and dance styles that owe their origin to African slaves in Cuba.
  • Rumba (dance), international dance styles that correspond to slower Cuban music, such as the bolero-son.
  • Catalan Rumba (rumba catalana), is a genre of music that developed in Barcelona's Romani community.
  • Flamenco Rumba, a style of flamenco music from Spain also known as Gypsy Rumba or Rumba Gitana.
  • African Rumba, Inspired by the Cuban son, a style of music that originated in Congo, and evolved into soukous music.

Cuban rumba[edit]

Main article: Cuban rumba

Rhythmic structure[edit]

Rumba clave in duple-pulse and triple-pulse structures

Cuban rumba is played in both triple-pulse (12/8, 6/8) and duple-pulse (4/4, 2/2) structures. In Columbia, triple pulse is the primary structure and duple pulse is secondary. In yambú and guaguancó duple-pulse is primary and triple-pulse is secondary.[5] The three conga (or tumbadora) parts are known as salidor, segundo, and quinto (the lead drum). The parts have other names too. Rhythmically, rumba is based on the five-stroke guide pattern called clave and the inherent structure it conveys.[6]


David Peñalosa states: "... the history of rumba is filled with so many unknowns, contradictions, conjectures and myths which have, over time been taken as fact, that any definitive history of the genre is probably impossible to reconstruct. Even elders who were present at historic junctures in rumba’s development will often disagree over the critical details of its history."[7]

The Africans brought over to be slaves had a history and culture that later merged with the other cultures they had been pushed into. The African origins of rumba can be traced to two secular dances of the Bantu origin: the yuka and “makuta”.[8] There are also other African influences in rumba. Rumba combines music, dance, and vocals, where all three elements interact with rhythmic improvisation.[9]

By most accounts, rumba first emerged in Cuba during the 1880s, at the time when slavery was finally abolished on the island. We know that the Congolese-based progenitors of rumba existed in the slave barracones (‘barracks’) during the early nineteenth century. It is therefore highly probable that various types of proto-rumbas were danced prior to the first rumba references made by contemporary chroniclers. Initially the musical instruments of rumba consisted of regular household items: the side of a cabinet functioned in the role of the present-day tumba or salidor (the primary supportive drum), while an overturned drawer served as the quinto (the lead drum) and a pair of spoons played the cáscara part on whatever was available.[10]

Several types of rumba emerged, some of which have been lost to time, or are extremely rare today. These include the taona,[11] papalote,[12] tonada,[13] jiribilla and resedá.[14]

The great Matanzas rumbero Chachá Vega states: “I was born in the neighborhood called Simpson. You had rumba for lunch and rumba for dinner . . . so, you had to learn rumba . . . Young and old, with great respect, and consideration. It was a whole way of life. [In other words, we’re born with the rumba] and we will die with the rumba.”[15] As an energetic Afro-Cuban dance, rumba was often suppressed and restricted because it was viewed as dangerous and lewd. Because of this, when it first emerged it was done in private. This includes a smooth combination of music, dance and poetry to produce a unique sound and dance [8] While the syncopated rhythms, and call-and-response singing are clearly of African origin, the song framework is largely based in the music traditions of Spain. The various styles of rumba songs derive their melodies, patterns and instrumentation from seguidillas, copla, peteneras, jotas, soleares, malagueñas, isas, folías and their related dances. A Cuban rumba song often begins with the soloist singing meaningless syllables called the diana. The male dancer and singer then may proceed to improvise lyrics stating the reason for holding the present rumba ('decimar'; span.: to make ten-line stanzas), or instead tunes into a more or less fixed song such as: "Ave Maria Morena" (Anónimo), "Llora Como Lloré" (S. Ramirez), "Cuba Linda, Cuba Hermosa" (R.Deza), "China de Oro (Laye Laye)", and "Malanga."

Guaguancó, yambú, columbia[edit]

The three main forms of rumba today are yambú, guaguancó, and Columbia. The differences between them are in the choreography and the pace.

Guaguancó is a couple dance of sexual competition between the male and female. The female seductively moves her upper and lower body in contrary motion, and holding the ends of her skirt, “opens” and “closes” it in rhythm with the music. The male tries to distract her with fancy (often counter-metric) steps, accented by the quinto, until he is in position to surprise her with a single thrust of his pelvis. This erotic movement is called the vacunao (‘vaccination’ or ‘injection’), a gesture derived from yuka and makuta, symbolizing sexual penetration. The vacunao can also be expressed with a sudden gesture of the hand or foot. The quinto often accents the vacunao, usually as the resolution to a phrase spanning more than one cycle of clave. The female reacts to the vacunao by quickly turning away, bringing the ends of her skirts together, or covering her groin area with her hand (botao), symbolically blocking the “injection.” A male dancer rarely succeeds in surprising his partner. The dance is performed with good-natured humor.[16]

The term guaguancó originally referred to a narrative song style (coros de guaguancó) which emerged from the coros de claves of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Rogelio Martínez Furé states: “[The] old folks contend that strictly speaking, the guaguancó is the narrative."[17]

Yambú is a couple dance like guaguancó but much slower. Vacunao is not used; the phrase en el yambú no se vacuna, "in yambú there is no vaccination", is commonly heard during yambú performances.

Columbia is a fast and highly acrobatic solo male dance.[8]

Rumba is now most commonly performed at informal fiestas. The musical ensemble is made up of percussions and vocal sections.[8] This African derived rumba dance and music also inspires poets who in turn inspire the dance and chants. Some poets, including Carmen Cordero and Maya Santos Febres, have said that a “poetic portrayal of dance maintains its meaning as a vehicle of resistance.” This could be taken as pushing for change and acceptance [18] These ideas go well with the expression associated with the rumba when it first emerged and when it became more widely accepted by all Cubans.

Carlos Vidal Bolado (better known simply as Carlos Vidal) was one of the first to commercially record authentic folkloric rumba (Ritmo Afro-Cubano SMC 2519-A and 2520-B, circa 1948).[19] Guaguancó can be heard in salsa songs such as "Quimbara" by Celia Cruz.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Blatter, Alfred (2007). Revisiting music theory: a guide to the practice, p.28. ISBN 0-415-97440-2.
  2. ^ Orovio, Helio 2004. Cuban music from A to Z. Revised by Sue Steward. ISBN 0-8223-3186-1 A biographical dictionary of Cuban music, artists, composers, groups and terms. Duke University, Durham NC; Tumi, Bath. p191
  3. ^ Peñalosa, David (2011: 183) Rumba Quinto Bembe Books. ISBN 1-4537-1313-1.
  4. ^ Alén Rodríguez, Olavo (2010: 3) A History of the Congas AfroCubaWeb.
  5. ^ Peñalosa, David (2011: xxii) Rumba Quinto. Redway, CA: Bembe Books. ISBN 1-4537-1313-1
  6. ^ Peñalosa, David (2009: 185-187). The Clave Matrix; Afro-Cuban Rhythm: Its Principles and African Origins. Redway, CA: Bembe Inc. ISBN 1-886502-80-3.
  7. ^ Peñalosa, David (2011: 184) Rumba Quinto. Redway, CA: Bembe Books. ISBN 1-4537-1313-1
  8. ^ a b c d Crook, Larry. “A Musical Analysis of the Cuban Rumba.” Latin American Music Review (1982): 92-123.
  9. ^ Knauer, Lisa M. The Politics of Afrocuban Cultural Expression in New York City. Journal of Ethnic & Migration Studies (2008): 1257-1281, 25.
  10. ^ Peñalosa, David (2011: xiii) Rumba Quinto. Redway, CA: Bembe Books. ISBN 1-4537-1313-1
  11. ^ Courlander, Harold (1942: 238) 1942 “Musical Instruments of Cuba,” The Musical Quarterly, v. 28, n. 2.
  12. ^ Sublette, Ned (2004: 258) Cuba and its Music: From the First Drums to the Mambo. Chicago: Chicago Review Press.
  13. ^ Sacred Rhythms (Regino Jimenez and Ilu Aña) Bembe CD 2027-2 (2001).
  14. ^ Alén Rodríguez, Olavo (2010: 3) "A History of the Congas" AfroCubaWeb.
  15. ^ Esteban Vega Bacallao “Chachá," from Roots of Rhythm DVD [n.d.]
  16. ^ Peñalosa Rumba Quinto (2010: xiii, xvi)"
  17. ^ Martínez Furé, Rogelio (1963) Conjunto Folklórico Nacional de Cuba. Catalogue.
  18. ^ Morris, Andrea E. Performing Dance/Writing Dance: Embodiment and the Question of Female Agency in Afro-Antillean Poetry and Culture. Revista de Estudios Hispanicos (2008): 391-414, 24.
  19. ^ Earliest Known Audio Documentation of Folkloric Rumba

External links[edit]