Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, Cuban music was a skilful blend of African, European and American cultures, making Cuba the cradle of modern Latin music. Here's a brief historical and technical overview of what makes up this music.
Rumba is a genre whose main influences come from the African rhythms brought by slaves during the slave trade. To draw inspiration from these rhythms, cajones (wooden crates) and clavijas (wooden pegs from ships) were used and played in the courtyards of buildings (solares) in poor urban neighbourhoods.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the Coros de Clave (a choir with its roots in the Spanish Orfeones) were very popular, and some of them took up Rumba to form the Coros de Guaguancó. This influenced the current structure of Rumba: a singer accompanied by a choir, the appearance of the chekéré and later, the congas, which were banned at the time, replaced the cajones.
Los Muñequitos de Matanzas
Son was originally played with a tres, bongos and a marímbula (a wooden box with metal blades that are vibrated). During the first decade of the 20th century, Son was played almost exclusively in Santiago (and in the east of the island) and evolved. Musicians played it in duos, trios or cuarteto. The guitar, a feature of the Trova (another Cuban musical genre), made its appearance.
With the Cuban government's decision to relocate soldiers from the army, some soldiers from Santiago, who were also musicians, arrived in Havana with this new musical genre and mixed with the rhythms and instruments already present in the capital. Claves, the botija (an earthenware pot into which you have to blow) and maracas became part of Son, and a variety of formations were possible (from trio to sexteto). Later, the double bass replaced the botija or marímbula and the trumpet made its entrance, enabling septeto formations, which have remained the most classic Son formation to this day.
In the 40s, Son became more modern, sometimes incorporating a piano and elements from Rumba, such as the campana and congas. Orchestras would leave more room for the instruments, with solo improvisations in musical sections known as "montuno". Son became Son Montuno. It was this genre that would later influence Salsa and Timba.
Familia Valera Miranda
Timba is a musical genre that emerged in the 90s and encompasses most of the "Cuban salsas" created from that decade onwards. This definition is controversial, as it is not a completely new genre.
To find the roots of Timba, you have to go back to the late 60s, when a group called Orquesta Révé decided to experiment with a fusion of Changüi and Son Montuno. A few years later, the group's bassist, Juan Formell, formed his own group, Los Van Van. He incorporated modern, rock elements such as a full drum kit, electric guitar and electronic keyboard. Influenced by American music (R&B, Soul, Funk, Hip-Hop, etc.) as well as traditional Cuban rhythms (Son Montuno, Rumba, Afro-Cuban, Charanga), he called this new genre Songo.
Several musicians from these two major groups, Orquesta Révé and Los Van Van, went on to form their own groups and experiment with fusions of genres and rhythms. Timba appeared in the 90s with the arrival of groups such as NG la Banda, Charanga Habanera, Bamboleo, Manolito y su Trabuco, Paulito FG, Issac Delgado and Manolín.
During Cuba's economic crisis of the 90s, known as the "Special Period", Timba was a form of expression with lyrics about the harshness of everyday life, provocative, mocking and sometimes vulgar, but very often using a double language to avoid the repression of the Castro regime. Although it has deviated from its sister, "Salsa", with which it shares its musical roots, Timba still uses the term "Cuban Salsa", which is much more familiar to tourists and foreigners.