The Cultural Significance of the Rumba

During the time of slavery, music became a central element of life to the slaves. Through song and dance, slaves had an outlet for emotions: song also helped the slaves to get through the hardships of slavery because songs helped keep their spirits high. The colonists encouraged this type of expression, as they wanted their slaves to be happy and stay subservient. By allowing them some freedom through song, the colonists felt the slaves were less likely to revolt. However, they colonists did fear that the drum stirred up too many people and threatened the society, thus a ban on drums was initiated (Daniel). During this time without drums slaves learned how to make the most out of their resources in order to recreate the sound of a drum. Everyday objects were used such as dressers, crates and boxes (Daniel). Crates and boxes are still used today in the Rumba alongside traditional drums; use of the crates and boxes creates a connection with the past. Boxes that were used to contain Codfish or candles are traditionally favored for use as a drum. These types of boxes create the sound which is desired for the Rumba (Daniel).

Social clubs for both slaves and free blacks called cabildos were formed (Smallwood). These cabildos served as a place for African rituals, belief systems, dances, songs, chants and instruments to be shared and practiced. Initially the cabildos were organized according to ethnic groups, though over time these groups were consolidated (Smallwood).

Following the emancipation of slavery, many former slaves moved just outside of the major cities.  These places were called solares , which included multiple habitats with a central courtyard (Roy).  These courtyards and the other public areas, such as the bars and streets, became centers for the sharing of culture and music. This was also a breeding ground for bringing music from the rural country into the cities. Here, many different forms of music combined to form a distinct style.  The installation of the railroad contributed to the spread of Rumba music as music from different places had a faster mode of transportation to move from one area to another.  The railroad connected the plantations, major cities and the ports; it was built in order to make the exportation of sugar and other goods easier (Roy). 

The Rumba has been influenced by African, Spanish and Haitian as mentioned before historians debate Indigenous Cuban cultures influence (Smallwood, Daniel). Historians debate the indigenous influence as the people were killed off so soon due to disease following the Spanish conquest (Daniels). Indigenous Cuban dance often involved hundreds of people and would last for hours. These dances were often choreographed and thus very structured (Daniel). Spanish contribution to the Rumba came from their folk music and literature (Davies). The African population contributed their forms of songs, movements and spirit to the Rumba (Daniel). Haitians also influenced the Rumba. Many plantation owners came with their slaves from Haiti to Cuba. These slaves had already developed their own culture in Haiti, which they then brought to Cuba. Their culture also impacted the Rumba (Daniel).

In modern day Cuba, specializing in the Rumba has become a profession. These people are called Rumberos (Daniel). The Cuban government supports these people, paying them for their practices and performances. Professionals, who have been trained in the art of the Rumba, do most of the performances of the Rumba today.

The drum was central to the Rumba, and has evolved over time. It started with the Cajon that was made of old boxes that carried fish.  These boxes were taken apart, polished and then nailed back together.  They were then used as drums.  The next form is very similar to what is used today though it has become more evolved.  It is called a Tumbadoras; these were covered with calfskin and were hourglass shaped (Roy). The Africans also adopted Spanish instruments such as the mandolin, guitar, tuba, ophicleide in addition to these instruments boxes, crates, frying pans, jawbones, spoons, and hoes were used as musical instruments (Leymarie).

The name “Rumba” has come to encompass three distinct styles of songs.  This includes Danzon, Son and Guaracha (Centralhome).  The Son is the predominant style of Cuban music know as the Rumba (Davies). These styles have been classified under one name because of the popularization of Cuban music worldwide.  Record companies did not distinguish between these styles when marketing records (Moore).  This music style became popular worldwide in the nineteen-twenties and thirties. Marketers sold Cuban music all under one name (Moore).  During this time the commercialized Rumba music was accepted by the Cuban government, however, at the same time the government was attempting to suppress the street form of the music. This suppression included police regulations as well as arrest for musical expression.  At times, whole communities were arrested for their music (Moore). 

Generally, Rumba music expressed one's character and situation.  It is considered sung poetry.  The lyrics are often fragmented and deal with poverty and oppression that the Afro-Cubans have experienced (Roy).  This can be correlated to today's rap music and other forms of music that talk of hardships and tell stories. Rumba is very rhythmic.  The beat of the drum determines the song.  A song starts off with the beating of the claves, which are wooden sticks; the clave also sets the tempo and mood of the song (Daniel). The antecedents the Rumba are the Yuka and Makuta (Daniel). Rumba is often considered the counterpart of North American Jazz (Daniel).  A Rumba can be done with a minimum of five people: a clave player-singer, two drummers and two dancers. Though it is typically done with eleven people (Daniel). This style is still prominent in Cuba and one of the better-known forms of music throughout the world which has come out of Latin America.

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