The term rumba may refer to a variety of unrelated music styles. Originally, the term rumba was used as a synonym for "party" in northern Cuba, and by the late 19th century it was used to denote the complex of secular music styles known as Cuban rumba. Since the early 20th century the term has been used in different countries to refer to distinct styles of music and dance, most of which are only tangentially related to the original Cuban rumba, if at all. The vague etymological origin of the term rumba, as well as its interchangeable use with guaracha in settings such as bufo theatre, is largely responsible for such worldwide polysemy of the term. In addition, "rumba" was the primary marketing term for Cuban music in North America, as well as West and Central Africa, during much of the 20th century, before the rise of mambo, pachanga and salsa.
Rumba in Cuba
During the second half of the 19th century, several secular dance-oriented music styles were developed by Afro-Cuban workers in the poor neighbourhoods of Havana and Matanzas. These syncretic styles would later be referred to as "rumba", a word that also meant "party". Traditionally, the three main styles of rumba are yambú, columbia and guaguancó, each of which has a characteristic dance, rhythm and singing. Although still a purely folkloric genre, numerous innovations have been introduced in rumba since the mid 20th century, including new styles such as batá-rumba and guarapachangueo.
Rumba in North America
In the US, the term "rhumba" (anglicised version of rumba), began to be used during the 1920s to refer to ballroom music with Afro-Cuban music themes, particularly in the context of big band music. This music was mostly inspired by son cubano, while being rhythmically and instrumentally unrelated to Cuban rumba. By the 1930s, with the release of "The Peanut Vendor", the genre had become highly-successful and well-defined. The rhumba dance developed in the East Coast of the United States was based on the bolero-son. The first rumba competition took place in the Savoy Ballroom in 1930. Nowadays, two different styles of ballroom rumba coexist: American-style and International-style.
During the 1940s and 1950s, the Mexican and American film industry expanded the cultural appropriation of the term rumba as rumbera films became popular. In this context, rumberas were Cuban and Mexican divas, singers and actresses that sung boleros and canciones, and rarely rumbas. Notable rumberas include Rita Montaner, Rosa Carmina, María Antonieta Pons and Ninón Sevilla.
In the 1970s, with the emergence of salsa as a popular music and dance genre in the US, rhythmic elements of Cuban rumba (particularly guaguancó) became prevalent alongside the son. Like salsa, rhumba would then be danced to salsa ensembles instead of big bands. By the end of the 20th century, rhumba was also danced to pop music and jazz bands as seen in TV shows like Dancing with the Stars.
Rumba in Spain
In Spain, the term rumba was introduced in the early 20th century as rumba flamenca, one of the palos (styles) of flamenco. Particularly, it is considered one of the cantes de ida y vuelta, since flamenco itself might have had an influence on Cuban rumba, particularly on its vocal style. However, musicologists agree that rumba flamenca does not truly derive from Cuban rumba, but from guaracha, a fast-paced music style from Havana. Apart from rumba flamenca, other syncretic styles of Afro-Cuban origin have been named "rumba" throughout the Iberian peninsula, outside of the context of flamenco (where the term cantes the ida y vuelta is mostly restricted), such as the Galician rumba.
In the late 1950s, popular artists such as Peret (El Rey de la Rumba) and El Pescaílla developed an uptempo style that combined elements from rumba flamenca, Spanish gypsy music and pop. This became known as Catalan rumba (rumba catalana). In the 1980s, the style gained international popularity thanks to French ensemble Gipsy Kings.
In the 1990s, the term “tecno-rumba” was used to describe the music of Camela, and later Azúcar Moreno. Since the early 2000s, the term rumba has been used in Spain to refer to derivatives of Catalan rumba with hip hop and rock elements, as recorded by Estopa, Huecco and Melendi.
Rumba in Colombia
In the late 1930s and early 1940s, a fusion of bambuco and Afro-Cuban music was developed in Colombia by artists such as Emilio Sierra, Milciades Garavito, and Diógenes Chaves Pinzón, under the name rumba criolla (creole rumba). Rumba criolla is classified into different regional styles such as rumba antioqueña and rumba tolimense.
Rumba in Africa
In the 1930s and 1940s, Afro-Cuban son groups such as Septeto Habanero, Trio Matamoros and Los Guaracheros de Oriente were played over Radio Congo Belge in Léopoldville (Kinshasa), gaining widespread popularity in the country during the following decades. Once local bands tried to emulate the sound of Cuban son (incorrectly referred to as "rumba" in Africa, despite being unrelated to Cuban rumba), their music became known as Congolese rumba or rumba Lingala. By the late 1960s, Congolese rumba was an established genre in most of Central Africa, and it would also impact the music of West and East Africa. Franco's OK Jazz and Le Grand Kallé's African Jazz were amongst the most successful Congolese rumba ensembles of the 20th century. A faster subgenre known as soukous (from the French word secouer, "to shake") was developed in the late 1960s by bands such as African Fiesta and is often used as a synonym of the former.
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