Cuban Rhythms: Rumba


Rumba is a sub-genre of Afro-Cuban music. Perhaps one of the most common music and dance styles in the country, Afro-rumba is split into three categories (and no, we’re not talking about those commercialized ballroom moves that you see during American dance competitions on TV, but authentic rumba that comes from the streets). In Cuba, the biggest branch of Afro-rumba is referred to as the “guaguanco.”

The basis of guaguanco is Cuban clave (as with all rumba forms) and involves music, dance and vocals. The instrumentation is mainly composed of claves, guaguas (slit bamboo pieces played with sticks) maracas or chekeres (gourd shakers), a low drum (the tumba), a middle drum (tres dos), and the quinto (which is both the leading drum and the highest-pitched drum). Some people also used box drums, referred to as “cajones.”

The singing style involves a lead vocalist and is in call-and-response format (which is common in African-based musical genres throughout the African diaspora; just like American Gospel, for example). The dance element requires two participants, a man and a woman. In guaguanco, the objective is for the male dancer to try to “inject” the female with his vacunao (“vaccination”) using hard pelvic thrusts aimed at her vagina. He can also manifest this sexually-fueled movement with his hands and feet.

The female dancer teases her partner with seductive body movements and by sensually lifting her skirt (if she’s wearing one), but protects her treasures by quickly pulling her skirt back down or shielding her private area with her hands. (This can also be accomplished with a handkerchief, as you’ll see in the video below.) Although guaguanco-style rumba is sexual in nature, it’s all in good humor and about having fun.

For more rumba demonstrations, click here.

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