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Music of Cuba - History of Cuban Music

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Of all the countries that have played a part in its evolution, this small island in the Caribbean has had the greatest influence on Latin music as we know it today.

History:

Discovered by Columbus in 1492, Cuba received an influx of over a million African natives in the 300 years preceding Cuba’s abolition of slavery in 1873.

Brought into Cuba by the Spanish settlers in order to work the gold mines, sugar and tobacco plantations, the majority of the slaves were originally from what is today Nigeria, the Congo and Angola.With them they brought the rhythms, music and dance that were an intrinsic part of their religious life.

It is this melding of African rhythms together with guitars, melodies and lyricism from Spain that gave birth to Cuba’s wealth of music and dance, and the reason the genre is usually referred to as Afro-Cuban.

Styles / Genres:

Since music and dance have always been a way of life in Cuba, all the dance and music styles and their various evolutionary counterparts would fill a book.

In the urban centers, contradanza, based on the French, salon style contredanse, evolved into the still popular danzon. Urban street music, influenced by African religious rituals, Christian religious carnivals and Caribbean carnival music similar to Brazil’s samba mixed together and gave birth to rumba (not to be confused with the rhumba) and the conga.

Musica Campensina:

The music of the countryside, known collectively as musica campensina, gave rise to guajira, the lyrical, sweet musical form that extols the virtues of the land and Cuba’s beauty.

The trova, another rural style of music from the eastern part of the island, dispersed news and gossip, often through satire. The Cuban bolero, evolving from the trova, is the epitome of the romantic love song. And finally, reflecting influences of all of these earlier musical styles is the heart of Cuban music, the son.

Migration North:

As waves of immigrants migrated north to the U.S., Cuban music fused with other musical formats in the urban centers. In the mid-twentieth century, new, popular musical styles were born from this fusion giving us the mambo, cha cha cha and, of course, salsa.

Today:

It’s difficult to say who “invented” some of the popular Cuban inspired musical forms, combination of instruments, evolved rhythms and dances. Does salsa come from Cuba or New York? Does Latin jazz owe more to Cuban musical traditions or those of New Orleans? Maybe the answer isn’t really important. As the world becomes a global village, Latin music continues to evolve and reflect the global heartbeat.

If you're interested in listening to a historical panorama of Cuban music, I am Time is a 4-CD set that explores the genre. One of the CDs is dedicated to Afro-Cuban religious music, the second to songcraft, the third focuses on Cuban dance music and the last explores Cuban jazz.

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