The mixture of African roots with European influences in the western hemisphere has created many great musical forms, such as blues, jazz and rock. In Cuba, the fusion of cultures produced the son and rumba, a mixture of music and dancing that would go on to have a gigantic influences around the world. Universally known dance music styles such as mambo, cha-cha-cha and salsa can be traced directly back to the island.
In the late 19th century, after former black slaves were liberated, they began to move freely around the island and brought their traditions with them. After Cuba attained independence in 1902, the country created a standing army requiring recruits to migrate from their towns to military centers to avoid local uprisings. It is said that this movement of people helped bring the rhythms of son from the mountain ranges in the east of the island to the urban centers of Matanzas and Havana.
Cuban son was boosted to popularity in the 1920s thanks to radio, and served as the soundtrack for many Americans flocking to the island to escape Prohibition. Trío Matamoros was one of the main groups in the 1930s, popularizing classic songs such as “Son de la Loma” and “Lágrimas Negras.”
Shockingly, the term rumba was originally pejorative, used to refer to “mujeres de rumbo” -- which literally translates to “ladies of the way” and is associated with permissive sexual actions of the common people. The dancing styles and dresses were inspired by elements of Spanish music that came from centuries of colonial domination.
Nowadays, when you walk down the streets of Havana, you can hear the rumba beats plusating through open windows in people’s homes or musical groups performing in courtyards. Spontaneous dance performances are known to spring up on street corners. Music is woven into the fabric of Cuban life.