Cuba lecture notes

28 Jan 2010 – Rumba examples


The textbook’s music examples come from a CD called Cuba in Washington (liner notes, lyrics available in pdf) 1997. A Smithsonian Folkways recording.  This label is highly recommended.


See section 2 of this webpage for instructional audio clips related to the Garland Handbook examples for rumba and son.


2 Feb 2010 -- African roots; son (Changui)


Website with demonstrations of West African (Ghana) instruments and rhythms.


Textbook’s music example (from Cuba in Washington (liner notes, lyrics available in pdf) 1997.


Changui example (from the above liner notes, same author as our textbook’s section on Cuba)


From the CD:

changüí is the genre of song, dance and verse that is very typical of the region of Guantánamo and its surroundings.  It shares important traits with the son complex in regard to certain rhythms, instruments, and the presence of choral refrains.  At the same time, it exhibits certain unique elements of its own.  For example, the performance of the tres establishes a unique rhythmic style.  The tres plays rhythmic figures that show a tendency towards abrupt closures or endings of motifs and phrases, combining with a pronounced plucking of the strings to create accents.  Some of these traits make it difficult, if not impossible, to fit this music into the pattern of the classic Cuban clave . . . rhythm.  In addition, the distinctive role of the bongo drums stands out.  Like standard bongos, these are paired, but their leather heads are attached with nails, and they are much larger.  The performance style of their players is totally contrary to that of the standard son.  The bongo part in changüí music is based on the continuous supporting role of one or two beats (played near the rim), together with two beats played in the center of the drumhead as well as many fragmentary, contrasting rhythm's which are injected into the music.  At a predetermined moment these distributed beats form a series of lightly, accented patterns known as picao.  Occasionally they group themselves symmetrically in common nation with a heavy or medium beats.  This type of rhythmic pattern has elements in common with the Rumba style; of Bantu origin, it plays a crucial rhythmic role in defining the style of this music.  Also, the tres simultaneously executes a series of rhythmic-melodic figures which, without abandoning its basic rhythmic pattern, initiate very peculiar repetitions and variations in relation to the bongo part.


On the other hand, this motive seeking a climax (with or without participation of the voices) is accented when the bongo player produces a series of accents by rubbing the drums heads; this way of playing -- traceable to African sources -- characteristically incorporates periodic spaces that alternate with a damp and slap.  The slap coincides with a note played on the marimbula . . . in periodic alternation during instances requiring high contrast.  Frequently this practice functions as a musical and emotional climax.


In addition to changüí’s African ancestry, some of the established melodic types revealed cadences of Spanish origin, fragments of decimas ... in the verses and other elements as well.  Such characteristics are still more evident in older examples of antecedents of the son, such as those of the nengon de changüí.


The more established pieces tend to define a first section, in which the theme is stated or declared.  This is followed by a second part, where solo lines alternate with refrains in which the musical grammar described above in the search for climax is always found.  [the montuno section] The performance also requires the rhythmic scraping of the metal guayo which is synchronized with the shake of the maracas.


4 February 2010 – son


Repeat of changüí example.

Textbook son example (for lyrics, see Cuba in Washington)


Additional son example: “Tres Lindas Cubana,” by Sexteto Habanero (from I Am Time, CD 3, Bailar con Cuba.)


Tres rhythm example (music notation and player) (as suggested in the Grove Music Encyclopedia article on son)



Contradanza & danzón examples

Rotterdam Conservatory Orquesta Típica, “El Pañuelo de Pepa

Orquesta Aragon, “Union Cienfueguera


Santeria ritual and associated music

Invocation of Elegua (John Santos and the Coro Folklorico Kindembo, Hacia El Amor, “Elegua-Iroko” (traditional)


“A Santa Barbara” (Que Viva Chango), Celina Gonzalez.  YouTube clip.(modern version) old version (very soft audio; focus on dance moves).  Audio in class from I Am Time, CD 1, Cuban Invocations


Other notes 

on son definition

·         clave feel

·         montuno (piano riff)

·         harmony                                   SALSA – JAZZ HARMONIES

·         anticipated bass

·         short phrases, often repeated

·         improvisation (descarga)


rumba blog


decima poetic/lyric form – ten lines of about 8 syllables each, in the rhyme scheme ABBAA CCDDC



comments on son from Grove Music On-line, 2005


The Cuban Son (not to be confused with its Mexican counterpart) and the Salsa music derived from it are recognized to be among the most important forms of Caribbean music of the 20th century. The scope of their international influence rivals that of reggae, blues and rock. Sones are highly syncretic,[emphasis added] representing a fusion of African and Hispanic cultural influences. In the 1920s they became an important symbol of national identity in Cuba, although they originated as a regional music in the province of Oriente. Son is difficult to define precisely, as numerous sub-classifications exist (e.g. son montuno, changüí, sucu-sucu, Guaracha, conjunto format and Mambo), as well as hybrid forms which fuse son-derived characteristics with other musics (e.g. son-guajira, son-pregón, guaracha-son and afro-son). Structurally, traditional sones tend to be in duple metre, based on simple European-derived harmonic patterns (I–V, I–IV–V) and alternate initially between verse and chorus sections. Short instrumental segments performed on tres (folk guitar) or trumpet are also frequently included between strophic repetitions. The montuno, the final section of most sones, is performed at a faster tempo and involves relatively rapid alternations between a chorus and an improvising vocal or instrumental soloist. Phrases in this section are generally referred to as inspiraciones. The cyclical, antiphonal and highly improvisatory nature of the montuno bears a striking similarity to the formal organization of many traditional West African musics, whereas the initial strophic sections of sones (known as canto or tema) more closely resemble European musics.


Acoustic sones employ various instruments including the tres, guitar, maracas, . . . bongo drum, güiro and botija (jug bass), marímbula (large lamellophone) or acoustic bass. Modern dance bands often use an electric bass, substitute electric keyboard for the guitar and tres and add conga drums (tumbadoras) and timbales as well as a horn section. Son lyrics utilize European-derived poetic forms such as coplas, cuartetas and décimas. Among the most distinctive musical characteristics of the genre are its prominent clave pattern, highly syncopated figures played by the tres and/or keyboard which outline the chordal structure of the piece, a tendency for the guitar strum and bongo to emphasize the fourth beat of the bar more strongly than the first and a unique bass rhythm accenting the second half of the second beat and the fourth beat of the bar, generally referred to as an anticipated bass . . . The syncopated bass pattern of the son as well as its ambivalent stress pattern has been fundamental to the creation of modern salsa.


With the exception of some música guajira, canciones, traditional trova and boleros, virtually all Cuban music contains a repeating figure known as clave which provides a rhythmic foundation to the piece. The term clave is confusing since it can refer both to a diversity of characteristic two-bar rhythms as well as to the concussion sticks on which some clave rhythms are performed. In a more general sense, the phrase ‘being in clave’ is used to imply the awareness of a clave time-line (not necessarily performed) which relates musicians' rhythmic and melodic performance to one another. The clave patterns of Afro-Cuban religious repertory, often performed on a bell or other metal object, tend to be in 6/8 time, while those in secular genres are more frequently in duple metre.




The rhythms of the Son have been key ingredients in the creation of the Mambo, the Cha-cha, the music commonly known as "salsa", and even the rhythmic structure of Latin Jazz. The Son ensemble can vary in its instrumentation ranging from one guitar or "tres" to a large ensemble with a full complement of horns and strings. – from the Conjunto Céspedes website; also has useful short definitions of bembe and rumba.


bata drumming demonstrated by John Santos (challenging!)


concise explanation of the Afro-Cuban 6/8 feel (notation only; no sounds)


basic “salsa” rhythms in detail (notation with downloadable audio clips).  The core rhythms are Cuban but added ones make it “salsa.”


salsa beat machine” interactive demo of salsa and merengue rhythms (switch sounds off and on; no notation)



general (covering a wide variety of Latin and world music styles)


video lessons on percussion from LP (Latin Percussion)



David Meckler

Feb 2010

Cañada College

 MUS 240 Music of the Americas