You're Here : Home Information Rumba



Written by Hamish Orr


The Yambu or 'Rumba de Cajon' (Box Rumba) is an urban style which developed in the late nineteenth centuary from a mixture of principally African and Spanish elements in the black neighbourhoods of the cities of Havana and Matanzas. Due to Colonial repression of African-style drums at that time, substitute instruments were created from materials at hand. 

In the solar (tenement block with a central courtyard), pieces of furniture, such as an overturned drawer and the front of a wardrobe were played with the hands while spoons served as drumsticks for the accompanying 'cascara' rhythm and tapping on a bottle kept time. Around the docks, crates from incoming cargo were used: the boxes in which codfish was packed and the smaller ones that had contained candles. Two of the wooden pegs used in shipbuilding struck together were a handy alternative to the metal bells and hoe-blades of the rural music, and they developed into the clave we know today.

It seems that the basic ensemble was one bass (support) cajon and a quinto (lead) cajon, plus clave and cascara, lead singer and chorus. The support can be expanded to two separate cajons. The tempo is the slowest in Rumba. The dance, which starts when the chorus begins, is for a couple about a metre apart for most of the time, and can be gentle and sensuous  or imitating the way that old people move.    

There is no 'vacunao', the pelvic gesture by the man towards the woman which is an essential element in the Guaguanco, a faster Rumba style which developed later from the Yambu.



The Guaguancó is the most popular of the Rumba styles, faster than the Yambu, but slower than the Columbia. The classic instrumentation includes two supporting drums known in Cuba by many different names; low pitch (Tumbador, Salidor, Conga etc.) and medium pitch (Tres Golpes, Tres Dos, Seis por Ocho etc.) plus a high pitched lead drum (Quinto). Cuba's essential timekeeper consists of two short wooden rods beaten together (Clave), sticks (Palitos) played on a soundbox of wood or cane (Guagua or Cata), and a shaker (Chekere, Guiro or Maruga) complete the ensemble. Distinct playing styles have developed in Havana and Matanzas, particularly for the middle drum.

The Guaguancó fuses African-derived instruments, rhythm and movement with Spanish musical elements and song-structures such as the Decima (a ten-line verse form) to create a uniquely Cuban art-form. The first section of the song is the Diana or Lalaleo where the lead singer sings abstract syllables to set the key. The main body of the song (Verso or Inspiracion) is followed by a call-and-response chorus section (Montuno or Estribillo). Most songs are in Spanish, but the use of Afro-Cuban religious song excerpts is common, especially for the choruses (Coros) although the Rumba is a recreational rather than a religious occasion.

The male dancer pursues the female, who playfully resists his advances, and tries to catch her off-guard with the Vacunao (literally vaccination) which can be an actual pelvic movement or symbolised by a rapid gesture of the hand (sometimes holding a handkerchief), foot or other part of the body usually without physical contact. Elements of other Afro-Cuban dance traditions and various mimed actions are frequently incorporated into the dance.



Guarapachangueo is a modern approach to playing Guaguancó which started to develop in the second half of the 1970s amongst 'Los Chinitos'; the Lopez family of the 'Corea' neighbourhood in Havana. The original concept was to reduce the number of players needed for the traditional Guaguancó, so that there was Quinto and only one supporting drummer in addition to Clave and Cascara. Usually each drummer would play one Cajon in front of them and one drum to the side, though sometimes just Cajones or just Tumbadoras (Congas) are used depending on availability.

During the 80s the style became very influential and many musicians developed the ideas in their own ways, notably Pancho Quinto with Yoruba Andabo and Conjunto Clave y Guaguancó who both also incorporated Bata drums. The number of players in an ensemble increased again to include a second supporting drummer. The Chinitos' style although syncopated leaves a lot of space in the music, but other styles have become busier and more complex.

A carpenter friend of the Chinitos started building Cajones shaped like squared-up Tumbadoras and also used extensions or 'ears' to create extra playing surfaces with contrasting tones. The Chinitos' support Cajon generally has 'Chaworo' (bells on a strap used for the lead drum in the Bata ensemble) attached around the top edge for additional sound.



The Columbia is a form of Rumba often described as being in 6/8 time (though this is a simplification) , which is played at a fast tempo. It is the oldest surviving form of Rumba, and unlike the urban Yambú and Guaguancó, it emerged in the rural areas around Matanzas. In fact an early style was called Ñongo, a word used to describe something from the country. It was named Columbia after a hamlet close to the railway near Sabanilla in Matanzas province where rumberos gathered.

The instrumentation is usually the same as for Guaguancó: three drums, a bamboo 'cata' or 'guagua' beaten with sticks, and a 'chekere' or 'marug a' (shaker), but in the traditional group, a metal timekeeper such as a 'guataca' (hoe-blade) or bell is used instead of the clave.

Both the 'diana' (introductory non-verbal vocal section) and the 'lloraos' (between the responses of the 'coro') of the 'Gallo' (lead singer) are particularly plaintive and reminiscent of Flamenco. In songs, along with the Spanish, there are often words from the languages of the major Afro-Cuban religions.

The dance is for solo dancers, usually in succession, to demonstrate their skill and virtuosity in a spirit of competition. A dancer sometimes balances a glass of water or a candle on the head, manoeuvres around a bottle blindfolded, or stabs knives close to the body. It is generally for male dancers, but there have been a few notable women who danced Columbia. There is a significant influence from the exclusively-male Abakuá religion both on the dance and the music. During the danced section of the Columbia, there is rhythmic interplay between the dancer and the drummer playing the quinto.


Last Updated on Thursday, 23 May 2013 17:40
antalya escort antalya escort mersin escort samsun escort kusadasi escort mersin escort adana escort eskişehir escort istanbul escort gaziantep escort bodrum escort izmir escort bursa escort kayseri escort ankara escort netspor canlı mac izle