Cabildos, mutual aid societies, gather some Black people in Cuba since the 17th century. They mix social, cultural and religious functions. These societies contributed to keeping the African traditions alive.

In Cuba, they are the origin of the comparsas playing in the streets, similar to the best-known Brazilian samba schools.

Some cabildos became secret societies, similar to a Black freemasonry, like the abakua brotherhood, still powerful nowadays.


A contradanza figure.


Wood packing case, used like drum in the yambú of the rumba. It is played by hands.


Take an old cattle bell having lost its tongue, waiting somewhere in the farm to be mended, and knock on it with a piece of wood to rhythm the singing and the music played by some friends. Well done : you have just invented the campana.

The strong and rustic bell makes several different tones, according to the place where it is struck, and gives a caracteristic sound easy to detect in a salsa band... when the bongos does not play, because the campana is often entrusted to the bongocero.

With time, it conquiered the title of percussion, was modernized - but just a little, and it keeps its original share -, and is now manufactured with the care reserved for musical instruments. It is also promoted, and it is now often fixed to the timbales, of which it is one of accessories.

Others names : cencerro ; cowbell.


Originating people from Calabar aera, in the south of Nigeria. A Cuban proverb says : "Que no tiene de Congo tiene de Carabalí" (if somebody does not have Congo blood, so he has Carabali blood).


These shells, named cauris in Africa, are used for divination rituals practised in santería.


Old Afro-Cuban dance.


Afro-Cuban folk dance, often named zapateo.


One of the contradanza figures.


This struck bell used in popular bands, is a creole imitation of Ekón, the abakua bell.


Instrument closely related to the guiro .


In the early 40ties, ritmo nuevo was born : a new style coming from the danzón, and boosted by Arcańo y sus Maravillas. Among the musicians of this new rhythm, the brothers Israël and Cachao Lopez (with Coralia), Antonio Sanchez, Félix Reina, and a violonist coming from Candelaria (Pinar del Rio, Cuba), but now in Havana : Enrique Jorrín.

In some danzones of his composition, in ritmo nuevo style, Enrique Jorrín integrates a formula used by chorists in few montunos. For example, in Dońa Olga, Lo que sea varón, ... , chorists repeat in unison : "Chachachá, chachachá, es un baile sin egual".

Enrique Jorrín
explains that, with his musician words :

"I composed some danzones, in which I gave few little choral parts to the musicians of the band. The public liked that, and so I carried on. By example, in Constancia, I inserted some well-known montunos. The public was very happy, and everybody wanted I speak about him in my lyrics... that why I asked the musicians to sing, in unison. The unison had multiple advantages : it was easier for the public to understand the lyrics ; voices, among the orquestra, were more powerful ; and it was a way to hide... the bad quality of musicians' voices. Because they were not really singers : in cha cha chá, the singing is entrusted to the musicians themselves".

Jorrín has already noticied the difficulties for dancers in danzón-mambo style : because the steps are not on the beat, but on the syncopation, and so the dance is rather delicate.
So Jorrín prefers to look for a simplified form, and then composes melodies with, if it is possible, no syncopations. And so, dancers can follow the melody like a indicator.
Orchestral arrangements, as for them, stay peppered with syncopations.

This mixture - with melody on the beat, and accompaniment on the after-beat - is a caracteristic of this new style, the chachachá.

Cha-cha Cha-cha-cha !The style was gauged for dancers, and owes the life to them. In Habana cabarets, dancers begin to elaborate new steps, in harmony with the new form. So is created the figure escobillo, easy for all : 1-2, 1-2-3, the two sides in alternation.

The first recorded title, La Engańadora, was released by América (the Jorrín's band), still clasified as mambo-rumba. It is in a well-known club of Havana, the Silver Star, that the style is christened and wins its definitive name : cha cha chá.

The success is immediate. From 1953, Jorrín composes many cha cha chá songs, and the popularity of this modern style conquers the island... before the whole world. El Alardoso, El Túnel, Nada para ti, are listed among these historical titles.

Seeing which way the wind is blowing, many musicians follow close behind the new wave, and so contribute to its popularity : Antonio Sanchez (Yo sabía) ; Félix Reina (Angoa) ; Rosendo Ruiz (Rico vacilón, Los Marcianos) ; Rosendo Rosell (Calculadora) ; Richard Egües (El Bodeguero) ; Rafael Lay (Cero codazos).

Surfing on its success, boosted by radios and records, easy to dance, cha cha chá spread, and its wave spill onto the world : Chicho O'Farril, Pérez Prado, Tito Puente, Charles Aznavour, Rubén Blades, Willie Colón, ...

As its more difficult brother, the mambo, it rules in the 50ties, before loosing a part of its influence during the 60ties.


Popular singing, in Cuba, practised in the early 20th century.


Afro-Spanish dance of the 17th century.


This old variant of the son, born near Guantanamo (Cuba), bring back to life thanks of Elio Revé during the 60ties : the changuy found here a new youth, and Elio Revé won an international dimension and the "king of changüy" title.


Sometimes named charanga francesa,
this type of band appeared
at the beginning of 20th century.
the charanga is devoted primarily to the danzones, until the appearance
of the cha cha chá in 1951, of which it becomes the all-found vector.
At the beginning,
a charanga was made of a flute, a violin, a piano, a double bass, a timbal criollo and a guďro ; nowadays, the formation evolved , and is characterized by the presence of violin(s).
Charanga Habanera...
in the time when it was one!


ClavesTwo cylindrical pieces of hard wood which one strikes one against the other : this very simple percussion, born in the port of Havana, is however the backbone of all Latin music. It's the clave whom one follows, it's upon the clave that rests all the orquestra. It generates rhythmic measurement, it is the primal pulsation : the true heart.

(click on the drawing
for listen to the clave 3/2)

One speaks sometimes about coro of clave to designate the choral societies who occurred in Havana in 19th century to celebrate Christmas. In addition to the various voices, the coros of clave included a small string instrument... without strings and used like a drum, guitars, claves, and sometimes a botija and a harp ; the pieces interpreted by this formation are called cantos of clave.


Big marine shell, used for making a wind instrument.


Traditional Afro-Cuban dance (and its music), often practised in carnivals, especially in Oriente, Cuba. It came from Haiti, but its origin is in Dahomey (Africa), French ex-colony.


Traditional Afro-Cuban dance. Columbia is one of the three rumba parts (with the yambú and the guaguanco). This slow dance, with only percussions, is practised only by men.


This orchestral formation spread in Cuba in the end of 50ties, and proliferated during the 60ties.The band is composed of several sections, but each section is made up of only one instrument. So the musical formation is condensed, and perfect for small clubs of Havana, looking for cheap bands.


Group of dancers, sometimes bound with a neighborough or a city. The comparsa parades during the carnival, with the same choregraphia and the same costume.


Big drum, coming from Africa, and very used in salsa. It is struck by the hands of the congacero, who stands while playing.
It is also the name of a dance, that knew success during the 30ties.


People from Congo origin. A Cuban proverb says : "Que no tiene de Congo tiene de Carabalí" (if somebody does not have Congo blood, so he has Carabali blood).


This orchestral formation was born in Cuba during the 40ties, for a repertoire giving greater place to son, bolero y guaracha. It is a extension of the septet (septeto) very used at this period.

Generally, a conjunto is composed of piano, double bass, bongos, conga, several trumpets (sometimes four !), guitar, and one or more singers with maracas and claves. Sometimes, a tres is used in place of the piano.


This old dance born in Cuba take its roots in the French contredanse, brought in the island by French people at the end of 18th century. In the early 19th century, it is metamorphosed in contradanza thanks to Black people.

The contradanza is composed of four movements : paseo, cadena, sostenido, and cedazo. The two first ones are slow, but the sostenido and the cedazo are brisk.

With time, the contradanza lost its collective character, and began to be danced in couple.

Contradanza is the origin of the danzón.



Controversia is a form of punto. Two singers vie in a kind of singing and improvised poetry. This verbal sparring match is a parent of North American dozens, Jamaican toasting, and, of course, rap.


This variant of oboe, with its piercing sound, was brought in Havana by Chinese emigrants. It arrived in Santiago de Cuba in the soldiers' pack, and later, was incorporated in the carnival instruments.


In Havana during the 19th century, this choral society is a rumba specialist.


Americanized name of campana.


Band of four musicians : a guitarist-singer, a tres player, a botija player, and a claves player (and chorist).


This Cuban instrument is like a tres, but with an additional bass string. Frequent in Oriente, it is used in son.


See Cocoyé.


Improvised feast, very noisy and unrestrained.


African dance, in the past danced in Cuba. It is the origin of the cumbancha.

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