genres

This Cuban genre/style list was generated from our in-house database on all the styles and genres of popular music we have been building for 30 years, with more than 3500 entries. Many have a variety of names and spellings, as well as appearing quite similar. We’re not experts and welcome any help on making this index better and more complete.


abierta
A invented name for the Latinette rhythm used by Stan Kenton on his Cuban Fire! LP, 1956.

abwe; chekeré
Afro-Cuban term for a percussion ensemble composed of beaded and filled gourds, associated with former slave religious practice.

afro
In Cuba Afro can describe a a popular song form derived from theater music, vaudville and blackface novelty songs in the 1930s describing ordinary Black Cuban life, often in a demeaning manner. Afro is also a term for chant and lullabies adapted from the rhythms common to batá drum ensembles.

Afrfro-son
Cuban song style resembling the blues sung by, among others, Isaac Oviedo.

afrocubana
Cuban genre derived from Nigerian and Congolese traditional forms and Catholic Spanish religious music.

akpwón
Cuban call and response song form derived from Yoruban people of Nigeria.

babú
Cuban dance associated with the tumba francesa drum ensembles of Haitian origin.

bolero
Late 18th c Spanish solo or pairs dance in 3/4 meter, played moderately fast by string trios, accompanied by castanets. The bolero was transformed in Cuba and eventually throughout the Caribbean to a duple meter slow-ish dance. The song form became extreemly popular, featuring lush romantic themes sung emotionally. Popular throughout South and Central America and the Spanish speaking Caribbean, the bolero was slightly faster in Cuba than Puerto Rico, and was introduced into Tex-Mex conjunto music by Valerio Longoria. Cuba also has the Bolero-son fusion and the island of Réunion in the French Antillais has it’s boléro.

bongoson
Vanity style introduced by Perez Prado on Our Man In Latin America LP (RCA, USA, LPM 2610, 1963).that is a “marriage of the twist and the Cuban ‘son’.”

bugalú or bugalou or boogaloo or Latin bugalú
In the USA, a new, if short-lived craze that replaced the charanga boom of the 1960s. The boogaloo was a sort of mixture of mambo and R&B, with songs in English as well as Spanish, and prefigured the crossover genre Latin soul, into which it merged by the end of the decade.

canción de cuna
Variation of the Cuban canción that functions as a lullaby, focusing on soothing a black baby to sleep, with immitative dialect that can be considered insulting.

capricho
Cuban variation on the canción, based on the European capriccio, with charachteristic humorous lyrics.

caringa
Cuban dance and song form of Afro-Caribbean origin with simple repetative lyrics, popular in the early 19th c.

casino music
Not so much a genre as a term loosely applied to the bands that worked the gambling casinos in 1950s Cuba. Music was mostly Mambo. Many bands put the word ‘casino’ in thier name, like Sextet el Casino, Don Azpiazu and His Havana Casino Orchestra (band that had first hit w/ “Peanut Vendor”, more a 30s band), and Conjunto Casino. Can also describe salsa danced in a large circle where dancers change partners.

cedazo
Cuban waltz in 2/4 that is a figure in the contradanza, consisting of eight or thirty-two measures, to fit.

cha cha cha or chachachá or cha-cha-chá
This style, which flourished in the USA, is generally credited as the invention of violinist Enrique Jorrin, who added a light vocal chorus to the shuffling instrumental arrangement of the danzon-and added further elements of the son. It was sometimes called a ‘double mambo’ in New York, because its basic dance step was the mambo with a double step between the fourth to first beats. This medium-tempoed dance craze began with Jorrin’s 1951 hit La Engañadora.” Cuban string and flute based charanga orchestras developed it further, one notable group being Orquestra Aragón.

changüí
Changüí is a quick tempoed variant of the ‘son’ as it evolved in Cuba’s southeastern Oriente province and in it’s principal city, Guantanomo. The term literally means “low class dance,” to distinguish it from the more refined salon music of the upper classes. Like much dance music worldwide, few lyrics go beyond exhortations to join in.

A typical ensemble consists of instrumentation similar to that of the son, but with significant differences. The maracas are pitched higher than usual and termed ‘female,’ while the bongo pair has larger drumheads and is pitched quite low, the tres (and sometimes gutar) is uniquely tuned and the quiro (guayo or rayo) is made of metal rather than wood. A typical folk marimbula rounds out the ensemble, all in all the sound very similar to that of a Dominican folk merengue group. Two other factors, unique to Cuba, greatly influence the rhythm and vocal pacing; that this region was settled by Bantu speaking Africans (most Afro-Cubans are of Youruba speaking descent) and that immigration from French speaking islands was significant.

changüí is one of the oldest forms of son. This regional music has gotten some islandwide exposure through Havana’s most popular dance bands, both Elio Revé Matos (Father of Changüi) of Orechestra Revé and Juan Formell of the original Los Van Van hailing from Oriente. Also called, “son-changüi.”

charanga
Characterized by flute and strings, also timbales, conga, guiro, piano, and two or three singers. Popular in US latin bands. Descendced from Arcano y sus Maravillas (Arcano and his Marvels), who developed the orchestral structure in 1930s Cuba. Mixture of European instruments with Cuban rhythmic energy. see Latin Beat, Vol. 4, No. 8, Oct. ‘94 “Two Centuries of Charanga Part 2” by Max Salazar. Originally called the charanga francesa.

charanga Francesa
Original name for the charanga, the name derived from French military bands at the beginning of the century that includea a flute (usually Creole wooden variety), violins, piano, bass, guïro, and timbales.

charanga vallenata
Accordion based Colombian vallenato style combining elements of the Cuban charanga and conjunto styles.

chuchumbe
Old Cuban dance with African roots.

cinquillo
The ostinato (repeating phrase) common to the Cuban danzon.

clave
This offbeat 3/2 or 2/3 African derived rhythmic pattern over two bars is the basis of all Cuban and most Latin music. The accents varies with the rhythm and in conjunction with every element of arrangement and improvisation.
Clave also informs the two-bar bass patterns in modern black music. The less ommon 2/3 reverse clave is used in guaguancó.

cocoyé
Dance and song form of the Eastern provences of Cuba of Dahomeyan/Haitian origin.

Columbia
Cuban rumba variation with roots in rural Matanzas played in 6/8 tme and sung with a combination of spanish and African phrases, one of the 3 forms of rhumba. Danced by acrobatic solo male dancers who interacts with the quinto drum and can be or appear to be possessed. Accompanying song is a continuous call and response recounting mysterious events and referencing African slave songs.

conga
“(1)Afro-Cuban drum, played with the hands; (2) Afro-Cuban music and dance genre, predominantly secular, traditionally rendered with voices and percussion, associated with Carnaval processions (comparsas).” A Carnaval street dance. “A large Cuban drum; also an Afro-Cuban dance named after the drum, and characterized by extreme violence of the accents on the strong beats in 2/4 meter, with a rhythmic anticipation of the second beat in every other bar of a basic two-measure phrase”

conga rhythm “The Cuban conga was originally a carnival dance-march from Santiago de Cuba, with a heavy fourth beat, but the rhythm is common to carnival music in many parts of the New World. The conga rhythm is more easily simplified than most Cuban rhythms and was a natural for nightclub floorshows. It never became permanent in mainstream Latin music, though Eddie Palmieri introduced a modified version called the mozambique in the late 1960s.”

conga Habanera
A celebratory carnaval rhythm from Havana.

conga santiaguera
A celebratory carnaval rhythm from Santiago.

contradanza criolla
Cuban Creole style derived from European court and country dances, that informed the danzón.

contradanza or contradanza Cubana
French 17th & 18th century “country dance” that came to the Caribbean via Spain (or possibly via Haiti) and informed the Cuban danzón and the danza. This couples dance was the first multi-instrumental music to become popular in Cuba.

criolla
Over arching term for Latin American and Caribbean musics with strong European influence or origin. In Cuba a late 19c lyrical, romantic vocal music. Popularized by composer Luis Casas Romero, who took inspiration from turn of the centuryBlack celebratory working class songs, coros de clave.   The structure is a brief intro followed by two sixteen measure sections, often the first section in a minor key, the second in a major. The tempo is slow, in 6/8 time. The best known song is probably ‘Carmela’from 1090 by composer Casas Romero.

cubop, Cuban bebop
Cuban bepop was a Latin jazz outgrowth of bebop – a style of jazz that emphasized speed, complexity and quirky phrasing – associated with Dizzie Gillespie, Cuban conga player Chano Pozo, and Mario Bauza in the late 1940s.

danzón
Cuban light-classica / salon dance originally played by wind groups, then charanga orchestras and derived from the contradanza in the late 1870s. Characterized by the cinquillo rhythm of quarter-eight-quarter-eight-guarter. The danzón was modernized in the late 30s by Arcaño y sus Maravillas, who added a section at the end for harder dancing, called the ‘mambo’ section, which developed into the mambo of the 50s.” Called ‘danza’ in Puerto Rico.

discoteca
Cuban take on Eruo house music.

filin
Cuba guitar based song form with sentimental, yet reality based lyrics, emerging , post trova, in the 1940s. Taken from the English, ‘feelings’

grasimá
In Cuba, grasimá is a dance associated with the tumba francesa drum ensembles of Haitian origin.

guaguaguancó
Style of rumba couples dance with a heightened polyrhythmic structure.
Instrumentation includes: tumbadoras (congas) or cajones (boxes), palitos (sticks) or cucharas (spoons), claves, and marugas (shakers).

guaguancó, rumba guaguancó
Cuba’s most popular form of rumba from Matanzas province. Three drum based with African roots, the mid-paced tempo is most often played in 4/4, with a strong 6/8 feel. Dance is a pantomime of courtship between rooster and chicken. Currently has a rapid, elaborate drum rhythm.

guajiro; guajira
A country dance and song form, in 3/4 or 6/8 time, of the Cuban farmers (guajiros), “similar to the son montuno but is more delicate and less driving.” The folk lyrics concern rural life, often improvised, often nostalgic, in decima form (10 line stanzas) derived from 17th century Spain. Instrumentation is tres, guitar, and percussion.

guapachá or wa-pa-cha
Trendy Cuban social dance based on the guaracha that reached its peak in the 1960s. On LP (Wa-Pa-Cha) Tito Rodriguez, promoted saying that the dance, “El Guapacha” is here presented as the “Wa-Pa-Cha”, nothing more than the Cha Cha with clapping accompaniment.

guaracha
A topical song from the chorus and improvisational solo voice, often with racy and satirical themes, in 3/4 and 6/8 or 2/4 time signatures. Faded in Cuba by the 1930s; now one of the fast forms commonly used by salsa groups. In Spain a dance form with a Cuban origin having great popularity among Gypsies in the 18th c.

habanera
This Cuban dance of Spanish origin was one of the first Latin form to influence American music, brought here in the wake of the Spanish-American war.   It also influenced the Latin American dance forms of Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Venezuela, confusing somewhat exact influences on US dance musics. In duple time : marked by a characteristic swaying rhythm of a dotted eighth note, a sixteenth note, and two eighth notes”. Named after Cuba’s capitol of Havana the rhythm was popular in Spain in the 19th c,and influenced classical composers, Debussy, Chabrier, Ravel and of course, Bizet’s opera “Carmen”. (Cigar rollin gal).

lamento
Cuban song style resembling the blues sung by, among others, Isaac Oviedo.

latunes
An American music that appropriated or mimicked a hodge-podge of Latin rhythms paired with English lyrics beginning in the 1930s. Drew largely on rhumba/rumba.

lucumi
Folkloric Afro-Cuban music and dance, with religious roots usually involving a great many participants and brought into wider public view during the Afrocubanismo movement of the 1920s and 1930s. As a religious music there is no audience, just participation by believers, while a folk performance involves an audience. As the name for religious practice Lucum is a Cuban version of Yoruban language and cultural expression and the religious system is often called Santería.

makuta
Congo-Angolan social dance form. In Cuba a ritual couples dance brought with the slave trade in the 16th c., accompanied by percussion.

mambo
Originally an Afro-Cuban dance form that came out of the Congolese religious cults in Cuba that evolved into a lively, exotic big-band dance craze worldwide in the 1940s. This Americanized instrumental form featured trumpet, saxophone, and trombone and was greatly influenced by jazz.

mani dance
Mock combative dance originated by the slaves working the sugar mills in Cuba durring the 19th c. Within a cicle of men, an attacker and defender link fighting and dance moves to the accompaniment of yuka drums and chanting.

masón
In Cuba, masón is a dance associated with the tumba francesa drum ensembles of Haitian origin.

matar la culebra
Fernando Ortiz described this dance as one of the more popular slave dances around the Cuban Twelfth Day (Day of Kings, Christmastime) celebrations on the island. Consisted of killing an imaginary snake and dancing around it. lit; “kill the snake.”

Mozambique
Cuban rhythm that combines elements from the conga and ritual dance rhythms of Africa, codified by Pedro Izquierdo (Pello el Afrokán), and becoming popular in the 1960s. In the States made popular by Latin bandleader, Eddie Palmieri, who claims it’s invention.

música Bantú
Cuban music by Bantú people of Congo origin since the arrival of slaves in the colonial period. The groups, called paleros, originally played kinfuiti and yuka drums with study sticks.

música Yoruba
Overarching term for Cuban music introduced by the Yourban slaves, known as Lucumís, during the Colonial period, who lived primarily in Havana, Matanzas and Las Villas provences.

nengon
Eastern Cuban style that was a transition in creating the Cuban son, still played by changüisero groups in the mountainous regions of Guantanamo, Toa Sierra, and Baracoa. Same lineup as changüi; the tres, guitar, bongo, marimbula, güira and maracas (and musical bow?). ‘Nengon’ is perhaps a affectionate term for negron (Black).

nueva trova
Overarching term for Cuban revolutionary protest music that emerged in the late sixties and became popular in the early seventies, with songs performed in and mixing a variety of traditional, classical and popular styles. Literally, “new song” the name also references the trovadors, or troubadores, the singer-songwriters who usually accompanied themselves on guitar. Precedents and influences in Cuba are the traditional trova (Carlos Puebla, Eduardo Saborit), the North American folk revival movement and a larger pan Latin protest music termed nueva canción.

Artists appeared on-stage like street performers, without stage outfits or theatrical flourishes. Serious political issues and calls for social reform were most often referenced in the lyrics; a love song would be linked to issues of sexism and a farmer’s plight a treatise on land reform. Well known exponents include Noel Nicola, Pedro Luis Ferrer, Sara González, Pablo Milanés and Silvio Rodríguez. Many of these artists were viewed suspiciously at first with their unscrubbed look and rock tendencies, then embraced as socialist reformers. The tradition continues today.

pachanga
Latin American / Afro-Cuban dance rhythm which enjoyed considerable popularity in Africa from the 1940’s and 1950’s and in the 1950s became a rage among East Coast Latin Teens. A fast, synchopated, duple rhythm, played too fast to last, as dances petered out.

palo or regla de palo
Dance comprising part of Congo rituals of Afro-Cubans, performed by couples, with fast and exaggerated arm and upper body motions and sliding foot movements. Word derived from Ki-Kongo ‘mpali’ or ‘witchcraft.’

paseo, passeo
In Cuba a couples dance form of the contradanza. Colombia claims the origin of this duple meter song form, common to Vallenato.

pinareño
Cuban vocal music from the countryside, with a strong Andalusian Iberian influence via the Canary Islands that emerged in the 17th c. One of the two majopr styles of punto music, pinareño is from the western provence of Pinar del Rio, has a flexible tempo, strong melodic line, a slow tempo and a flows freely.

pregón
A variation on the cuban son and guaracha defined by its subject mater rather than any particular form, the earthy pregóns are songs derived from the calls of the street sellers, offering anything from fresh fruits to knife sharpening services. Pregon’s often use many vocal tricks to attract attention, like melisma, appaggiatura (breaking up the first syllables of a word), and the frequent use of falcetto. Two of the most famous songs using this form include, “El Pregón del Pescador”, (“The Fishmonger’s Cry”), as well as the classic “Manicero”, (Peanut Vendor”) by Moisés Simons, first recorded by Don Azpiazu and His Havana Casino Orchestra in the 1930s. Celia Cruz often performed pregóns, while Mongo Santamaria created an American hit with his take, “Watermellon Man.” Ideally the verses are improvised, alternating with a fixed chorus, songs often featuring an underlying trumpet played lyrically. Pregón also lends its name to the lead singer, a “pregonero”, in salsa when there is a call and response structure or during the montuno.

punto en clave or punto fijo, pinto camagueyano
Cuban vocal music from the countryside, with a strong Andalusian Iberian influence via the Canary Islands that emerged in the 17th c. One of the two major styles of punto, hails fro the central provinces of Las Villas and Camagüey, with a rigid fixed meter, strongly controlled by the clave. Another variation is punto cruzado.

punto espirituano
Cuban vocal music from the countryside, with a strong Andalusian Iberian influence via the Canary Islands that emerged in the 17th c. One of the less familiar styles of punto, punto espirituano is from central province of Sancti Spiritus.

punto guajiro or punto Cubano
Cuban vocal music from the countryside, with a strong Andalusian Iberian influence via the Canary Islands that emerged in the 17th c. Two styles, the free, pinareño and the fixed, punto en clave. Pinareño is from the western provence of Pinar del Rio, has a flexible tempo, strong melodic line, a slow tempo and a flows freely. Punto en clave hails fro the provences of Las Villas and Camagüey, with a rigid fixed meter. Other less common forms are punto espirituano from central province of Sancti Spiritus and punto matancero from western Mantanzas province. The seguidilla is also considered a form of punto.

rhumba – Africa
Zairian dance music influenced by Cuban music that was the precursor to soukous.

rumba – Cuba
A drum and vocal form whose name was incorrectly applied to the quite different, son-based dance music which became popular in the USA in the 1930s. The rumba originated in the early 1900s in the province of Matanzas, and until the 1950s was an informal, private music performed by participants at local fiestas. The rumba is essentially a dance-the generic term for a set of three dances, the yambu, the columbia, and the guaguanco- involving not-quite-touching pelvic thrusting, ‘vacunado’, by the man toward his female partner. Instrumentation consists of conga drums, metal shakers and ‘cata’, slit-tube percussion. The songs, wailed out by a solo vocalist and a small chorus, typically concern life’s daily problems, but often deal, too, with santeria-linked themes or African tribal lore.

son
An Afro-Hispanic hybrid originiated in the eastern, rural region of Cuba. Having many variants, son essentially features syncopated rhythm (claves), soulful lead vocal (ideally improvised), and the exciting chanted, usually male, ‘montuno’, or chorus. Early son was played by sextets, septets or conjuntos featuring trumpets rather than violins; bass, claves, bongos, other percussion including maraccas, congas, or shallow, stick-played timbales; and guitar or tres. Most popular in the 1920s, son is a core music that forms the basis for much of Cuba’s popular music.

son conjunto
Name for the ensemble developed by Arsenio Rodriguez in the 30s including tres and/or piano, bongos, congos, bass, trumpets and vocals divided into two groups, lead singer (sonero/a) and chorus (coristas).

son montuno
Arsenio Rodriguez’s name for his version of son, which in turn was an influence of modern salsa.

songo
Late 80s Cuban dance rhythm innovation also known as Onda Areito. Leading lights Los Van Van and Orquesta Ritmo Oriental. Use trad flute led charanga instrumentation w/ some electrified instruments. Possibly as old as 20 yrs via the Los Van Van percussionist Changuito. Style based on figures developed from segunda and palitos rumba paterns played on the Western drum kit. All manner of conga drums used, but no bongos. Big jazzier PR exponents Batacumbele and Zaperoko. In general describes the salsa developed durring the embargo.

sucu-sucu
Cuban son variant very similar to son montuno, originating from the Isle of Youth (Pine Island) off Havana, in the 19th c, describing the couples dance, the dance party and song style. Influenced by Jamaican Calypsos, Cayman immigrants and unusual in the use of the accordion.

tahona or tajona
Cuban folk rumba variation introduced by emigrant slaves after the Haitian revolution, originally performed in Santiago de Cuba, later popular in Alto Songo, La Maya and Ti Arribe. Theatrical style, structure related to to the tumba francesa, with both a fast and slow dance rhythm, now a cultural artifact. Also the name for a barrel shaped Cuban tambourine used in this music.

tango-congo
A form of the Cuban canción, developed in the 1920s within the Black community, influenced by many other genres, notably son and zarzuela.

timba
The latest, fastest variant of Cuban salsa dancing.

tonada Trinitaria or fandango
A regional Cuban music from the city of Trinidad, in the provence of Sancti Spiritus.   Primarily a vocal music performed by ‘claves’, 20th c. choral groups that exist throughout the country, that specialize in singing from house to house at Christmas time. Tonada Trinitarias have a melodic structure and lyrics are similar to the cancion (Cuban song), while percussion is Black African.   Songs are led by a solist, backed by a mixed (male /female?) chorus, with three small yuka drums (quinto, bombo, requinto), a guataca metal percussion instrument and a güiro scraper.

tres
Cuban guitar style revolutionized by Isaac Oviedo during 1920s and ’30s.
A Cuban guitar with nine, or three sets of doubled or tripled strings. Used primarily in guajiro music and of the Afro-Cuban septetos, son and son montuno. One of the great early players was Isaac Oviedo during 1920s and ’30s and championed by Arsenio Rodriguez in the Cuban conjunto. Introduced in the States/New York, late 60s/early 70s, during the Cuban tipico revival.

trova or trova tradicional or vieja trova
Wide variety of Cuban folk music written largely by working class singer-songwriters on guitar in the late 19th and early 20th c. Originated in Santiago by Black and mulatto men. Usually close harmony singing by two performers, slow tempoed, with slight rubato, romantic themes generally, with complex chord progressions. Influenced by romantic Spanish canciones and Italian operatic arias and gave birth to the Cuban bolero.

tumba francesa
Folkoric music created by Africans of Dahomean descent in Cuba’s Oriente province, as well as the name of the drum played in the ensemble.   , and Many Dahomeans arrived in Cuba following the Haitian Revolution in 1791.

tumbandera
Popular Cuban Colonial era Black slave couples dance, lively and considered vulgar by whites.

yambú or rumba yambú
Cuban rumba variation. Slowish tempo; dancers move as though elderly. Brief songs w/ “Diana” (melodious la-la-las) reminiscent of Andalusian flamenco.
yuka
Kongo-Angolan social dance form, similar to the modern rumba, also brought to Cuba. “composed of the “ronquido” and the “campanero”. The former is a series of lateral steps, while the latter’s steps form a figure-eight.

zapateo
Popular Colonial era Black dance of Chile, Argentina, Peru and Cuba in the 1800s.

zapateo Cubano
Rural Cuban dance form derived from Spanish tap form, zapateo Andaluz. Dance similar in form to punto guajiro, as partners dance seperately, keeping strong rhythm with their foot taping. Very popular late 19th c, disappearing by early 20th.